Jane Eyre and Vampires
Kathleen S. Allen
Copyright © 2012 Kathleen S. Allen
All rights reserved.
To all Jane Eyre fans everywhere
Thanks to Charlotte Bronte for creating such an inspiring character as Jane Eyre.
The RED ROOM
My first memory of being filled with rage and hatred happened at my Aunt Reed's house. My Uncle John Reed, my mother's brother, bade her take me into their home when I was but a mere babe in arms since both my parents died. When Uncle John was on his deathbed, nine years hence, he made her promise to love me as she loved her own children, Eliza, Georgina and John, and she said she would. But, she lied.
Hiding from my cousin, John became one of my favourite games. He chastised me whenever he could, with words, certainly but also with his hand, slapping and pinching me. I found the easiest way to avoid these hurtful afronts was to hide from him.
On the day in question I hid in the window seat, pulling the curtains around me and sitting as still as I could in the library pouring over The History of British Birds. This particular book was set high near the top of the bookcase. I had my eye on it for many a day now wondering how I could get it down. This day I dragged a small table over to the bookcase in question, climbed atop the table and reached up. Alas, I was too short. So I made a hasty decision and I used the edge of the shelves to climb still higher. I withdrew the book, which was heavier than I imagined sending it with a THUNK to the floor. Listening to make sure none of the household heard the sound, I climbed down as quick as I could. The table stayed near the bookcase because I heard footsteps approaching. Fearing to be caught, I headed for the sanctuary of the window seat and enclosed myself in its depths. I heard the Reed children come into the library, setting up a game of sorts on the table I had moved. Eliza was the only one of the three who wondered why the table was moved but soon they were engaged in their game. Ignoring them and eager to peruse the bird pictures I knew lay inside, I turned the first page. Never have I seen so many different birds! The tiny ones, so small as to fit in my hand and the large ones bigger than my head. So enthralled with their colours and in my delight at finding such a treasure I made a small gasp of pleasure at seeing a particular reddish one. Too late I clamped my hand over my mouth. I heard the pieces swept to the floor with a sound of disgust amidst protests from his sisters as John—the willful one and the most likely to be the culprit- realized I was in the room with them. I shut my eyes willing myself invisible.
The curtains were drawn back with a jerk. John stood there grinning at me. He was older than me by four years, a stout boy whose unhealthy looking skin was a grayish colour. He lived to torment any creature weaker than himself. His large eyes bulged out like a toad's at me.
"Well, see here what I have found, sisters? A spy among us! Hoping to gain favour with our mother, Jane by telling on me cheating at the game?"
"I did not know you cheated, I did not listen. I was reading."
I held the book out in hopes he would be distracted. I glanced out of the curtain hoping for a way out but Georgina and Eliza stood behind John, blocking any exit I might try. Georgina preened in a small hand mirror she carried with her tied to her waist. Her blonde hair, blue eyes and pink cheeks made for a pleasing picture. She made many swoon at the sight of her beauty. I knew her true nature though. She was spoiled and selfish, spiteful and could be as malicious as her brother. Eliza, although she said very little was stubborn and selfish never shared with me. Neither girl held any affection for me, the orphan of Gateshead Hall.
"Well, girls, what shall we do with the spy? Not only is she a spy but she has stolen one of my books. For it is my book, I shall inherit Gateshead Hall upon my mother's death and therefore this book is mine. Give it here, thief!"
He yanked the book from my hand tearing the page with the red bird on it. "Now, see what you made me do!" he bellowed. His sisters backed away from him, as well they might.
I stood up anger coursing through my veins making the room seem too hot and too small to hold me in. "Give me back my book," I snarled.
"No, it is my book and I shall do with it as I please."
He began to rip out page after page letting the pages drift to the floor. I screamed, my fists flailing as I rushed at him to make him stop. In surprise he threw the book at me. I ducked but too late, I fell against the table cutting my head. Blood dripping into my eyes I ran at John again, my fingers making claws. Nothing would satisfy me more than to claw his eyes from his head!
"Wicked, cruel boy!" I flew at him as the red bird might have done intent on doing him harm.
Eliza screamed and Georgina ran from the room as I began to beat John with my fists. He cowered on the floor covering his face as my fury rained down on him.
"What is this?" Aunt Reed came into the room with two of the servants, Bessie and Sarah. Someone, I believe it was Bessie, pulled me off of John who whimpered on the floor.
"She came at me for no reason, hitting me because I asked her to see what she was reading," John said sitting up. He had a smug look on his face. "See what she did to your beloved bird book, Mama? Tore it to pieces in her rage."
"I did not, it was John, he threw the book at me and I fell and cut my head!" I said.
Aunt Reed stared at her son, then at me. "Bessie, take Jane to the Red Room and lock her in for the night. She will have no supper. Maybe that will teach her some manners." She stared at me. "You are here by the grace of my good will, Jane and I will not tolerate any more of these passionate outbursts from you, do you understand me? Ladies do not act this way! Now, go and think over your sins."
"It was John, not me. He started it," I said as Bessie lifted me to my feet.
"Come, child. I will clean your face off." She took me to the kitchen sitting me on a stool as she tended to my injury. I sobbed my sorrow out as Bessie wiped the blood from my face.
"John did it, he did," I insisted.
Bessie nodded. "He is a bad boy but it will do you no good to complain about him to Mrs. Reed, she dotes on him. Come, Jane, take your punishment and tomorrow I will have a sweet cake for you in the morning."
We walked along the corridor to the top floor. It was generally out of the goings on of the household, my uncle died in the Red Room and only the servants went up there. Although I had heard that Mrs. Reed went there sometimes to brood over her husband's death. She often told us if we were not good we would have to spend a night in the room with his spirit. Of course, none of her children ever did. This was the first time I was banished to the room. My knees began to shake as we got closer to the room. Bessie unlocked the door and pushed me inside. She opened the curtains to let in what light was still available. A fine layer of dust lay over the furniture. I doubted the maids had cleaned in here in many days.
"Am I to have a fire? Or a candle?"
"Alas, no, my child. The bed looks comfortable though."
I shook my head. "No, that is the bed my uncle died in. I cannot sleep there."
"Suit yourself, I'll see you in the morning, Jane."
"Wait! Do not leave me here, Bessie! Please!" But she was gone locking the door behind her.
The daylight streaming into the room gave me some comfort, I suppose. I stayed on the dusty window seat until the stars came out and I could no longer see my hand in front of my face. Not even a sliver of a pale moon shed light on me. Shaking, I stared around the room. Surely my uncle would not be haunting this place after nine years?
"Do not haunt here, spirit," I said aloud. "The place for you to be is in heaven."
I listened and waited hoping to feel a change of the oppressive atmosphere of the room. The dust tickled my nose and I sneezed several times in a row. If only a fire had been lit, I would not be so afraid. Despite my ever growing fears my stomach rumbled with hunger. How I wish I had stuffed a roll into my pocket as I often did to enjoy later. I felt in my pocket just to be sure. No roll. Morning seemed so far away.
Dozing in the window seat, I awoke with a start wondering why I was not in the nursery as usual. Remembering my punishment I sobbed. It was not fair, I did nothing wrong but defend myself against my cousin's cruelty. I reached up and unlocked the sash letting the night air clear some of the stuffiness of the room away. Huddling in the corner of the window seat I dozed off again but woke to a noise in the room.
There, by the bed stood a woman dressed all in white, her dark hair streamed down her back and her eyes were black as night. She opened her mouth to show me her teeth and I realized in that second she was a vampire come to suck my life blood from me. She drifted towards me speaking in a foreign tongue I knew was meant to beguile and enchant me. I ran from the window seat toward the door of the room, forgetting for a moment it was locked. Rattling the doorknob first then pounding on the door, I yelled for Bessie.
"Bessie! Let me out, oh please! There is an evil spirit here meant to do me harm! Please! I beg you! Help me, help me!" Glancing over my shoulder, the woman vampire hovered over the window seat at the window.
"Begone, spirit of evil," I cried. "Begone in the name of God!" The vampire drifted out the window hovering there. Holding my fingers to my neck, I wondered if she had bit me but my neck appeared to be free of marks. I pounded and yelled again and again. The door flew open, Bessie and Sarah stood there in their nightdresses staring at me.
"Whatever is wrong, Jane?" Bessie asked.
Instead of answering I pointed to the woman. She shimmered slightly then was gone.
"What was that?" Sarah muttered.
"It was an apparition meant to harm us but it left me alone, I don't know why," I answered still staring at the window.
"Go back to bed, young miss. It is the middle of the night," Bessie said preparing to shut the door and lock it again.
"No, you cannot! Please do not shut me in with that evil spirit, she may return and then I will join the ranks of the undead!" Throwing myself to the floor I wailed and screamed until nothing but blackness surrounded me.
I woke up in my own bed in the nursery. Bessie leaned over me tucking me in.
"What happened?" I asked.
"You fainted from the fright of a bad dream. I brought you here with Mrs. Reed's orders. She does not wish you to sicken and die, Jane. She only wanted you to learn your lesson. Have you learned it?"
Nodding, my eyes drifting closed I said, "Yes." Satisfied she left the room. A cheerful fire burned in the grate and I knew without question I was safe for the time being.
JANE MEETS MR. BROCKLEHURST
Sarah insisted she also saw a woman dressed in white. Bessie pooh-poohed her saying it was all in her imagination.
"Something or someone was at the window, dressed all in white and then vanished," Sarah said. I was having the sweet cake that Bessie had promised me in the kitchen with the servants.
"Nonsense," Bessie said sipping her tea. "You listen to the ramblings of the child and take them to heart."
"Me beau, Captain Jake, told me that last night there was a light in the churchyard over the grave of a woman newly dead and the grave was empty when he looked inside of it. It was her that haunted us. The churchyard is just near the side yard!" Sarah's eyes widened at Bessie.
"Stop filling the child's head with your silliness, Sarah. Finish your breakfast, it's time to get to work." She looked at me. "Are you finished, Jane? Mrs. Reed has asked me to tell you to put on your clean frock. There is a visitor coming to see you."
"Me? I do not know anyone except for those of this house," I said gulping down my tea.
"Mr. Lloyd is come to see you because of your faint last night."
"Oh." I had forgotten about Mr. Lloyd. He was the apothecary who tended us when we were ill. "I am not ill, as you can see."
"Go and put on your clean smock then come downstairs to the parlour. Hurry now, he will be arriving shortly."
In my heart I liked Mr. Lloyd, he was kind and caring and had gentle hands. I knew he liked me, too so I hurried, even tucking my hair into a mob cap to keep it tidy. I ran down the stairs hoping I would not run into John. He did not seem to be at home since the house was so quiet. I went to the parlour door and knocked.
"Come in, Jane," said a voice I knew well. I ran into the arms of Mr. Lloyd nearly knocking him down. He laughed setting me firmly on my feet.
"Jane! That is no way to greet a visitor!" Mrs. Reed said. She looked as much like a toad as her son. With her voluminous gown poofing out around her, she appeared to have no other body parts except for a small head that stuck out from the lace collar. The sour look on her face seemed like she was always sucking on lemons. I often wondered why the constant sweets she ate never affected a change in her expression. She stored them in her pocket and handed them out to her children whenever the whim struck her. I, on the other hand, had never tasted but one that I stole on the sly from Georgina. She put hers down and left the room to attend to something. Knowing she was not as fond of sweets, I felt that I did her no injustice when I popped the chocolate into my mouth savouring the taste. After that time I watched and waited for any opportunity to procure a sweet for myself. Mr. Lloyd usually gave me a sweet before ending his visit so I was eagerly awaiting the treat.
"Never mind, Mrs. Reed. I am glad she is doing well. Now, Jane, I heard there was some trouble last evening," Mr. Lloyd said. He was tall and lean, his brown hair tied in the back as was the fashion for gentlemen but his brown eyes were kind as they looked at me.
"I saw a ghost at the window of the Red Room, she came in and meant to harm me but I screamed and she left."
"Nonsense, child. You do go on!" Mrs. Reed said waving a hand.
"Tell me about it," Mr. Lloyd said sitting down on the settee.
He patted the seat next to him. I willingly went to it. Tucking my feet up in order to be comfortable I told him the whole story beginning with my climb to get the bird book. He listened intently, even interrupting me at times to clarify a point. Mrs. Reed tried to interject her side of the story but he held up a hand to stop her.
"Let the child finish, Mrs. Reed."
When I finished my tale of woe he looked at me full in the face. "I ascertain this child has been terrified and that is why she fainted. I see no ill effects of that faint but she will have to be watched closely. And, under no circumstances is she allowed to be locked into that room or any room ever again." He laid a stern eye on Mrs. Reed who squirmed in her seat. Grateful beyond measure, I laid my head on his shoulder inhaling the unique masculine scent of cigars, disinfectant and horses that he emitted. He ruffled my hair before standing up.
"I shall leave this with you, Mrs. Reed. It is a sleeping potion in case Jane has bad dreams from her experience. Use it sparingly, one or two drops will do the trick." He set the vial on the table next to the settee. "And now, Jane I will leave you in the capable hands of your Aunt Reed." He donned his hat and gloves that had been sitting on the table. I pulled at his sleeve.
"Take me home with you, Mr. Lloyd, please?" I implored him. "I cannot stay here with these cruel people who do not love me!"
Mrs. Reed cleared her throat but said nothing. Mr. Lloyd squatted down to be at my level. "I cannot, Jane. This is your home. These people are your family."
"They are nothing to me," I said with conviction. Mrs. Reed gasped. "I would gladly leave them behind."
"I cannot, Jane. But, I will come and visit you when I can, will that be acceptable?" He patted his pocket. "Here you go, Jane. Two sweets for your ordeal last evening." I took the sweets. "You understand I cannot take you with me, Jane?"
Nodding, tears stinging my eyes I ran from the room back to the nursery sobbing as if my heart was broken, which indeed it was.
Days passed. I avoided John and he did not seem inclined to torment me on the few occasions when we ran into each other. I spent the majority of my time in the nursery. Bessie decided I would help her and Sarah with the household and I took to my chores with a vengeance, cleaning and scrubbing as if I could scrub away the oppressive nature of the house. Three days after Mr. Lloyd had pronounced me fit, Bessie came to the nursery where I was arranging Eliza's tea set. She did not play with it any longer so I thought she would not mind if I did.
"Mrs. Reed has a visitor who wishes to see you," she said bustling around getting a clean smock for me. She dressed me and wiped my face clean with a wet cloth. She brushed my hair, or tried to before tying it back with a white ribbon. "There, that is the best we can do. Go to the parlour and mind your manners, Jane." She pushed me toward the door. I hesitated feeling as if something was about to happen that would change my life.
"But, who is the visitor?" I asked.
"A Mr. Brocklehurt from Lowood. A school master, now go!"
A school master! My feet flew down the stairs. This was my chance to leave Gateshead Hall. I would go to school and become a learned pupil and better than that, I would be far from John Reed and my aunt. I knocked lightly on the door before being granted admission.
A stern man stood at the mantel examining the knickknacks there. He put down a statue of a dove as he turned his eyes on me. I shivered. Those eyes were not kind, but hard, cold and cruel. Suddenly I wanted to be back in the nursery with Bessie. Taking a step backwards I meant to go back through the door but Mrs. Reed was too quick for me. She shut the door behind me and stood guarding it.
"Come here, child," said the man. I seemed to be rooted to the spot. He walked over to me. "The first lesson a child learns is that of obedience." He looked me over. "Turn around, child." I did as he asked. Longing to sit down I glanced at the settee but neither Mrs. Reed or the visitor seemed to want to sit down. "Tell me about the child," he said to Mrs. Reed.
"She is willful, stubborn beyond all reason, passionate and she lies to get her way."
"I do not!" I said whirling on Mrs. Reed. She reared back as if I would strike her.
"You see, Mr. Brocklehurst what I have to put up with? She torments my poor son, John so that he cries at night."
"Lies, all lies! He is the one that torments me!" Both of them ignored me. I stomped my foot in anger.
"And she does not listen or obey?" Mr. Brocklehurst asked.
"She does not."
"And do you read your bible, child? Do you know about the stories in the bible?"
"And what is your favourite?"
I thought about it. "I like the ones where David smot Goliath and Moses brought his people freedom."
"And the Psalms, do you read and memorize those?" he asked.
"No, I do not care for those."
"That is a sign that the devil is in you, child. Only those who harbour evil in their souls do not love the Psalms." I did not comment.
"Tell me, Jane. Are you good?"
"I believe so," I said.
"Do not believe a word that comes out of her lips," Mrs. Reed said.
"Ah. Well, Jane, there is nothing more disturbing than that of a naughty child. Do you know where the wicked go after they die?"
"They go to hell."
"And what is hell?"
"A pit full of burning fire."
"And should you like to go to this pit of burning fire after you die, Jane?"
"No, I would not."
"What must you do to keep from going to the pit of burning fire?"
"I must keep in good health and not die."
Silence. Then, Mrs. Reed spoke up. "You see how she is, Mr. Brocklehurst. It would be best if she could start at Lowood immediately."
"Yes, I see. I will arrange her passage as soon as I can. Mrs. Reed," he tipped his hat to her going out the door without saying another word to me.
I whirled on Mrs. Reed. "I am glad to be going away from here and from you and your children. I will never call you my aunt or tell anyone you are a relation to me. You promised my Uncle John you'd be kind to me and you have been anything but kind. When I am quite grown up if anyone ever asks me how I liked you and your family I will tell them how cruel you treated me and how the sight of you and your children make me sick!" I ran out of the room sobbing.
LOWOOD AND HELEN
The coach came for me the next day. It was still dark out when Bessie woke me. Dressing in the dark so as to not wake the others I tiptoed out. The only trinket I took with me was a rag doll that once belonged to Eliza she threw in the trash. I rescued it and Bessie sewed a new face and yarn hair on it for me. She even made it a dress and a white pinafore for her. I hugged the doll close to my chest as Bessie helped me on with my cloak.
"Here is your ticket, mind you do not lose it. I have packed a pie for you to eat on the way. It will take three days to get to Lowood from here. You will stay at whatever inn the coach stops at, it has all been arranged. Do you understand, Jane?"
Groggy with sleep I staggered out into the chilled air of January, frost lay over the grass, it made a crunching noise as I stepped on it. I pulled my cloak tighter around me. The coachman lifted my trunk to the top of the coach and secured it. Shivering I watched until it was tied down then stepped inside the coach. Six people were squashed in, three on each side. It did not appear there was room for me. I stood uncertain at the door until the coachman shoved me inside.
"Sit down," he grumbled. One of the ladies squeezed over and I sat down next to her. In my hands I carried the bag with my breakfast in it. I looked out the window but all I could see was darkness. The coach wheels rumbling beneath me lulled me into a fitful doze. I awoke when the coach stopped.
"Rest stop, all out," The coachman called. Being the last one in, I was the first one out. Grateful to be able to stretch my legs I stared at the inn. The coachman spoke with a man, I assumed was the innkeeper who pointed at me. The innkeeper walked up to me.
"Are you Jane Eyre?" he asked.
"Come inside and have breakfast, the missus is waiting for you, child." Unused to the kindness of strangers I followed at a distance. I wondered how far from Gateshead Hall we were. I was on my way to school! I envisioned vast expanses of green lawns where girls of all ages sat in their finest dresses reading books or stretching or listening to teachers impart their knowledge. I dug the page from the bird book out of my pocket and unfolded it. I would learn about the birds in England and in the world. And I would learn French and Latin, Drawing, playing the pianoforte, and other more wonderous things besides! Smiling I dug the pie out and ate it with relish.
A jolt of the coach woke me. Only four people remained going this far. I listened for the coachman's call.
"Lowood Institution, all out, Miss Eyre."
I gathered my cloak around me and stepped from the coach trying to see the school. Fog had set in and it blanketed the building and that combined with the dark night made it hard to see.
"At least it stopped raining," said a voice.
A hand reached for my bag and I gave it up. The coachman brought my trunk down and another man lifted it on his shoulders carrying it behind us. "You can put it there," the woman said pointing to a spot just inside the door. The man put the trunk down before leaving. He tipped his hat to the lady. She was beautiful with dark hair and eyes and was quite tall. She smiled at me.
"Are you tired, child?" she asked.
"And hungry, I imagine."
She turned to the woman who walked beside us. "Miss Miller, see that Jane gets something to eat before bed. I have some bread and cheese in my cupboard she can sup on."
"But that is yours," Miss Miller said.
"Give it to this child as I have said."
"Yes, Miss Temple." The woman glared at me. "Follow me, girl." Reluctant to leave Miss Temple, I followed.
She led us to a room filled with long tables. Many girls of all ages sat at the tables with hands folded in front of them, none of the speaking but waiting in silence. Miss Miller clapped her hands together.
"Form leaders, bring the trays out!" she commanded. Trays were brought out filled with a cup of water and a small cake of sorts. "Commence eating, you may converse," she said. The room exploded in noise. Miss Miller grimaced. To me she said, "follow me to Miss Temple's chamber." Again, I followed.
Soon we were in a bedchamber that reminded me of Georgina's at Gateshead Hall. Miss Miller took a hunk of bread and a hunk of cheese from a cupboard. She handed them to me. I ate them as quickly as I could. She watched every bite. As soon as I was done she led me back to the room with the long tables. The girls now sat in silence again. She clapped her hands and the girls rose as one.
"To bed, girls, single file, no talking." They marched to another room and I followed getting in line at the end. A room filled with ten beds lined one stone wall. Two girls dressed now in night clothes got into a single bed and covered themselves. There were no extra beds. Confused I stared at the beds then at Miss Miller. She sighed. "You are to bed with me until other arrangements can be made." She pointed to a bed at the end slightly larger than the others. I took off my cloak and undressed in a hurry. I was not used to undressing in front of so many. Once my night dress was on I climbed into the bed beside Miss Miller. She pulled a blanket over the top of us she bade me "good night, Jane."
Listening to the breathing of the other girls soothed me. I soon fell into a fitful sleep. Exhaustion seemed to claim me as a bell rang next to my ear a short time-or so it seemed-later.
Yawning I sat up. The girls made their beds in silence and marched to the water stands filled with pitchers of water on the other wall. I stood shivering with them staring at the others in order to ascertain what to do next.
"Break the ice that forms on the top," whispered a girl next to me. She grinned at me showing me how to break the ice with the heel of her hand. Her red curls peeked out from underneath her night cap. "It will wake you up, try it," she whispered. She scooped up some water and washed her face with it. "Brr!"
I did as she did. The water was indeed cold. The coldest I have ever felt. But it did drive the sleep from my eyes. Once the girls had washed they dressed in gray dresses laid at the foot of their beds. There was one at the foot of mine so I put it on. Miss Miller was nowhere to be seen. Next socks and shoes and finally bonnets were tied on.
Miss Miller came back in. She clapped her hands together. "To breakfast, girls. No talking, stay in line." Again, I fell into step with the last one in line. The bread and cheese I had last night seemed far away. I was hungry. Hoping for something delicious I sat at a table next to the girl with the red curls.
"I'm Helen," she whispered to me.
"Jane, Jane Eyre," I said.
"Silence!" Miss Miller glared at me. I ducked my head. "Trays, now!" The trays, carried by some of the older girls were put in front of us. A horrible smell of burned porridge drifted up to my nose. A blob of porridge sat on the tray with a spoon next to it and a cup of water. Miss Miller clapped her hands again and the girls began to eat. Soon comments fell on my ears. "Burned again." "Horrid stuff!" "I cannot eat this slop!" And so on. I tried a spoonful, I was so hungry I did not care if it was burned. But after two spoonfuls I put my spoon down.
"Is this what we always get to eat?" I asked Helen now that we were allowed to speak.
"Oh, not always. Sometimes we get biscuits and gravy or fruit and bread."
"Will they bring something else?" I asked looking around.
"No, now we wait until lunchtime."
The growling of my stomach could be heard across the room, I was sure.
The morning passed in a flurry of lessons. I tried to keep up but since I had never been to school before, except for reading, I was woefully behind even the youngest girls. Much to my embarrassment I was put in the class with the youngest students for French and Mathematics but with the older students for Reading and Art. I did not have an ear for music so I was put in the beginning class for that as well. Much to my delight I was in Art with Helen. The first class we were to sketch outside in the garden despite the fact it was snowy, cold and freezing outside. We donned warmer bonnets, a heavier cloak and boots for our trek outside. Happily I strode out to sit on a stone bench near a statue of a lovely lady. Helen sat next to me. We sketched in silence, every so often you could hear a girl breathe on her fingers to bring some warmth into them. Helen gazed up at the statue with rapture on her face.
"What do you see when you stare at the lady?" I asked.
"I see the face of an angel who protects me from harm." Her eyes shone with love. She gazed at me. "Shall I tell you a secret, Jane Eyre? Will you promise to keep my confidence?"
"Yes, I will," I said with a solemn air.
"An angel visits me at night sometimes. She comes dressed all in white glowing with the love she holds in her heart for me."
"Does the angel speak to you?"
"No, she holds me close and she breathes into my neck, here. See? Angel kisses?" She held her hair back so I could see her neck. Two tiny puncture wounds were visible.
"They look like bites of some kind," I said.
"No, the angel told me she would kiss me because I am a child of love." Helen put her hair back. "Do not tell anyone, you promised."
"I will not tell, Helen. Will you come and find me when the angel comes again?"
"She only comes when I am in Miss Temple's bedchamber or in the infirmary, never with the other girls."
"Promise you will find me."
"I promise. Look, here is her picture I drew." She opened her sketch book and showed me a picture of a little girl wearing a white dress with long dark hair in ringlets. Her eyes were dark pools so sorrowful that I almost cried out in sympathy looking at them. I nodded before Helen resumed her sketch of the statue. Something troubled me about Helen's angel but I could not fathom what it was.
At the end of lessons we lined up for luncheon. To our surprise, the lead girls brought in trays and trays of bread and cheeses, mugs of coffee and sweet cakes. Stuffing a hunk of cheese in my mouth I marveled at the spread.
"Is it faeries?" asked one of the littlest girls.
"No, it's Miss Temple," said one of the older girls. "She felt sorry for us so she implored the cook to give us her weekly ration instead."
"Miss Temple is an angel," I said reaching for the bread. Helen smiled as she nibbled a piece of cheese around the edges like a mouse might.
Our happiness did not extend through supper. The smell of rancid fat drifted up into my nose as the tray was set before me. Wrinkling my nose I stabbed at the rusty coloured meat with a finger. It swam in a blood-red pool alongside some potatoes that were woefully undercooked and hard. Sighing I ate some of it. The bread and cheese treat seemed so far away as to be part of a dream. And thus ended my first day at Lowood Institution.
As the weeks passed I fell into a sort of routine with the other girls. The only pleasure I got was to converse with Helen in the evening recreation half hour before bed. I took to sleeping in her bed and her companion, a small girl named Martha, slept in a bed recently vacated by a girl whose father came home from the Crimean. Helen and I often stayed up late into the night whispering together. My other pleasure was art. I had a talent for sketching and soon many of the girls wanted me to sketch their portraits. Even Miss Temple asked me to do one of her.
On the day in question she bade me come to her bedchamber to do the sketch.
"I will only come if Helen may come as well," I said in my willful way.
"Very well," she said a smile playing at the corner of her lips.
Helen and I skipped the hallways of Lowood to Miss Temple's rooms. As the superintendent of the school, she had two large rooms assigned to her. A roaring fire to keep out the spring chill greeted us as we knocked and then entered. I had been in her rooms before when I first came to Lowood so the opulence was no surprise to me. Still, I wondered why those of us forced to sleep in an unheated room and given meager wares to sup on should not have some of the comforts she enjoyed.
After a luncheon of bread and cheese I set to work sketching Miss Temple as Helen sat near the fire and read her book. She had an occasional cough that plagued her and to me, she seemed to be thinner than she had been when I first met her. I glanced at her before turning back to my sketch pad. Once done I handed it to Miss Temple who exclaimed over it.
"Why, Jane, this is good, quite good."
"Thank you, I could redo it, your hair is not right here, see?" I had my hand out to take the sketch back but she pulled it away from me.
"I think not. I will frame this and hang it in here so that I may always recall this lovely moment."
Helen, about to say something began to cough incessantly. She could not get her breath. Miss Temple ran over to her with a glass of water that Helen gulped down, the coughing subsiding.
"Your cough is worse, Helen."
"It is only bothersome at night," she insisted. I had not noticed before but there were dark circles under her eyes.
"Perhaps we should get the apothecary in to see you," she suggested.
"I will be better once I am warm, it is still so cold in the bedchamber," Helen said.
"That settles it, the apothecary will come and you will sleep here with me until the cough is gone or the weather warms."
"Then Jane should sleep here as well," Helen said looking at me.
"We will see. Now off to French, both of you! Thank you again for the sketch, Jane."
Much to my surprise, Mr. Lloyd came to see Helen and the rest of us. He examined us, looking down our throats, listening to our breathing and checking our limbs for soundness. He agreed with Miss Temple that Helen should be kept warm and that it would be fine to let me sleep with her. If her cough did not improve in a fortnight he would come back. Meanwhile he ordered fires lit in all our rooms, heartier meals for us and warmer blankets for our cots. At the end of his visit Mr. Brocklehurst came to find out what was going on in his school.
"This is outrageous, Lloyd. I will not have these girls pandered to! They need to learn humility and by the grace of God, they will not be coddled."
"Is it coddling to allow the girls to have a decent meal, a warm blanket and not die of consumption?" Mr. Lloyd asked. "It is my duty, as the apothecary, to impose treatment on these girls in order to keep them healthy. Several of the girls have the early signs of consumption. One is quite ill with it. I am sure your benefactors would quail at your severe ways and withdraw their funds immediately if they were to be told of how these girls have been half-starved and frozen."
At the mention of benefactors, Mr. Brocklehurst wavered.
"You must do as you see fit," he said dismissing Mr. Lloyd with a wave of his hand. He noticed me standing there. I wanted a word with the apothecary but I was not able to speak to him for Mr. Brocklehurst bade me return to my lessons. Instead I stood near the window looking out at the carriage waiting for Mr. Lloyd. As soon as I saw his lean form head for the carriage I bolted out the door calling to him.
"Mr. Lloyd! Wait!" He paused at the carriage turning around to see who was calling him.
"Ah, Jane Eyre, you are fit and healthy although a bit on the thin side. What can I do for you?"
"Is Helen very ill? I am worried about her."
"Yes, Jane, she is. I am hoping that with a change of her bed, better food and a warmer cloak, she will fare better. Only time will tell. Now I must be off, I will see you next month, Jane." And he was off.
True to his word, Mr. Lloyd engaged some wealthy benefactors to provide us with meals, blankets, clothing including warm cloaks and boots and tea with cakes in the afternoons. Mr. Brocklehurst did not approve but he had no say in the matter. Still he sought to abuse his power whenever or wherever he could.
It was the weekly inspection. He walked the line of us staring at each girl and either nodding in approval or making a remark to Miss Temple about her. When he came to Helen he hesitated.
"Why does is this girl allowed to have curls under her cap?" he snarled snatching the cap from Helen's head. The curls sprang to life as he did so further enraging him.
"Her hair curls naturally," Miss Temple said.
"We are not here to let nature rule us, Miss Temple. Fetch me scissors, now!" he commanded to one of the older girls. As soon as he had the scissors in his hand he reached up to cut Helen's curls off.
"No!" I shouted. "Leave her alone!"
Ignoring me, he cut Helen's curls off, leaving them in a heap on the floor. Satisfied he turned to me. "Who is that girl that shouted?"
"It is I, Jane Eyre," I said with a bold tone.
"Jane Eyre? Why is this girl associating with the other girls? Did I not tell you that she is one of the devil's own? She is a stubborn, willful child who delights in tormenting others."
"No, I do not!" I yelled.
He glared at me. "And she is worse kind of a child, this girl is a liar!"
"No, I am not!"
"Shun her, girls. Do not befriend her, see that she does not get the sweetest fruits or the juiciest meats. Do not help her in her lessons. Teachers, heed my warning, this girl must be given the hardest lessons and be beaten severely on a daily basis so that we will defeat the devil in his possession of this child!" He turned to Miss Miller. "Bring me a slate to hang and chalk." One was handed to him. On it he wrote in large letters, "I AM A LIAR, SHUN ME" and hung it around my neck.
"For the remainder of the day you will stand on the stool in the common room with this around your neck. At the end of the day you may retire without supper. Do this every day for a month and perhaps the devil will leave you alone."
"Mr. Brocklehurst, a child cannot go without food or water for 30 days, nor could any of us," Miss Temple said.
"She is to be shunned. She is in God's hands, now." He left the room. I refused to let the tears fall that threatened.
Miss Miller came over to me and led me to the stood in the common room. She helped me to stand on it. "You will stand here for a time, Jane. I will release you if you must use the chamber pot, otherwise you have to stay on this stool, understand?"
I nodded with my chin in the air determined not to cry. The girls filed in and out of the common room on their way to lessons or to go out to the garden. Still I stood. When the announcement came for the supper and then the bedtime repose I still stood tall. I would not let Mr. Brocklehurst have his way. The darkness in the hallway made me shiver a bit. My knees shook from the effort of standing. I wished Miss Miller would come to take me down.
Helen came around the corner with something in her hand. She handed it to me. A hunk of bread and cheese. I gobbled it down nodding at her.
"Miss Miller says you may come down and go to bed in the bedchamber. You are no longer allowed to sleep in Miss Temple's room with me." She coughed. She held out a hand to help me down.
"I am not a liar, Helen. Do you believe me?"
"I do. I have seen your true self, Jane and you have goodness in your soul. Come now, I will escort you."
After a week of standing on the stool, with Helen bringing me bits of food and water. I was relieved to be able to go back to lessons. The other girls did not speak to me as if they were afraid of me. I did not mind as long as I had Helen and Miss Temple.
At the end of the month, Mr. Lloyd came again. It was nearly May and the flowers were beginning to bud. We all looked forward to warmer days and nights. I now slept in the bed alone so I craved warmer nights. After our examination I went to find Helen. I came to Miss Temple's room and knocked.
"Come in," Miss Temple said. She sat alone at her desk writing.
"I have come to see Helen, where is she?" I asked.
"Mr. Lloyd thought it better for Helen to go to the infirmary for a few days, Jane. Her cough has worsened and she has a fever."
"But, the weather is warmer now, she will be better once the sun shines on us more."
"Perhaps. You must brace yourself for the worse, Jane. Helen is very ill."
"God will not let Helen die, He will not!" I declared running out of the room to the infirmary.
There I found several children huddled into their beds, coughing and moaning. Helen lay in a bed at the far end of the hall. I ran up to her grasping her cold hands in mine.
"Helen, dear Helen, you must get better. Promise me?"
"Jane, sweet Jane. I am in God's hands and the angel's. My angel has come to see me again. See?" She showed me her neck where fresh wounds had appeared. "It is almost time for me to go home."
"Home? Home to Scotland?"
"No, home to heaven."
"You cannot, I forbid it, Helen." I shivered in the chill of the infirmary.
She held her blanket open for me. "Come and lay next to me, Jane. You are cold." Not caring if anyone saw me, I did as Helen asked. I lay next to her, she was even colder than I. We cuddled close together.
"I love you, Helen," I whispered.
"And I love you, Jane. Now let us sleep. I am so very tired." Her eyes drifted closed and I listened to her ragged breathing for a time until I drifted off to sleep.
In the morning I was awakened by hands lifting me from Helen's side.
"No, I want to stay," I said.
"She is gone, Jane. I am so sorry," Miss Temple said.
I looked down at Helen and I knew that she had died. I screamed reaching out for her.
"Helen! No! Helen!"
Miss Temple carried me away to her bedchamber as I sobbed, my heart broken.
THE LETTER ARRIVES
I did not, could not heed their warnings.
It began when the letter arrived. One of the girls brought me the letter as our luncheon ended carrying it in her hands as if it were something precious. She curtseyed to me.
"Miss? This letter came for you. I was instructed to give it to you." The girl—one of the older girls-handed me the letter but before I could take it Madmae Pierrot snatched it from her hands turning it over peering at it. She laid the letter next to my plate within my reach.
"Thank you Martha, you may return to the dining hall," she said in her broken English. Martha curtseyed again, her eyes downcast.
I glanced at the letter sitting next to my plate. In my eagerness to get to it I upset my tea, spilled the soup and generally made a mess by the time luncheon had finished. Madame Pierrot stared at me as if she had never seen me before.
"What is wrong with you Miss Eyre? Do you sicken?" Her nasal French accent hurt my ears.
"No, it is. . . may I have my letter?" I reached for it but she slipped it into the pocket of her apron.
"Time enough for letters after the girls retire I think. Who would be writing you? You have no family." She looked as if she expected an answer.
I nodded. "I do have family; my aunt resides in London still." Madame Pierrot scoffed at me.
"This is the same aunt that banished you to our institution when you were only eight?"
"Yes, Aunt Reed. She did not wish to honor her dying husband's promise to love me as her own daughter. She sent me here to Lowood."
"To teach you some manners and to teach you to be God's child," Madame Pierrot said taking a spoonful of her soup. The tone of her voice implied that I had not learned either one.
"Yes," I said mopping up the spilled tea.
"Is the letter from her? Not likely. To my knowledge she had never written you," Madame Pierrot stated. She took the letter out of her pocket reading the return address aloud. "Thornfield Hall, Yorkshire." She stared at me before pocketing the letter again. "Now who do you know in Yorkshire?"
"No one at present," I said.
My hands shook as I picked up the teacup drinking the last of the tea. She tapped her pocket. I longed to reach over and pull the letter from her. I had a brief vision of grabbing the letter holding it high over my head, running with glee as I shouted my triumph and sequestering in a corner reading the letter. What was in it? I smiled to myself as I put the teacup back on the table.
"I will investigate further and speak to you after the girls are in bed for the night." She got up and so did the rest of us. When Madame Pierrot was done, so were we. I kept my eyes downcast as she left the table.
Miss Temple came over to me. "But this is so exciting! A letter! Perhaps it is what you have been hoping for!" She was my only friend here at the school. I smiled back.
"Perhaps. I wish I could read it now."
"You will find out soon enough and then I will have to say goodbye to you," she said sitting down in Madame Pierrot's seat. She nibbled at a hunk of bread that sat on the table. No one had touched it.
"You are lucky to sit next to Madame Pierrot, she gets the freshest bread." She grinned at me leaning in closer."I have news too, dear Jane. I am to be married. I am leaving the day after graduation." Up to that point I had counted Miss Temple as my only friend but with her gone, there would be no reason for me to stay here any longer. No matter what the letter contained I vowed to leave Lowood as well.
The afternoon passed. I palmed my pocket watch given to me at graduation this past June. It was scratched and the glass cracked in places but it was mine. The first something I owned out right. I stole a glance at it as the senior girls conjugated French verbs. I kept looking at it wishing the time would fly rather than crawl as it appeared to be doing. Madame Pierrot, as the senior French teacher saw me looking at my hand and I quietly slipped the watch back into my pocket. I stood up, too restless to stay inside. I clapped my hands together to get the girls attention.
"Girls," I said in French. "Let us learn our verbs in the fresh air."
The spring air felt like a balm to my winter-soaked bones. I gathered a shawl around my shoulders leading the girls out the great front door to the garden. A benefactor—possibly a Lord-donated his former mansion to Mr. Brocklehurst who turned it into a school for girls. Poor girls with no relations. He believed in the spare the rod, spoil the child manner of teaching.
Looking around as I stepped outside I imagined the mansion as it used to be. Stately rooms filled with heavy ornate furniture polished to perfection by servants, instead of the bleak, empty rooms filled with old school desks and cots. The marble floors gleaming instead of marred from too many boot scuffs. No matter how one scrubbed the marks remained black and streaked across the once white tiles. I passed through an elaborately carved archway of fruits and vines to the now-deserted garden. The girls followed me chatting quietly among themselves. I led them to the stone benches gracing the perimeter of the weed-filled space. Each spring I planted a corner of the garden for myself and each summer Mr. Brocklehurst ordered the plants yanked up and burned. Some of them survived and sprouted their colours the next spring. When I became a teacher I insisted the garden would be useful to grow our own vegetables. Mr. Brocklehurst agreed. I planted a few flowers amidst the carrots, onions and potatoes.
I sat the girls on three benches and proceeded to drill them in French. I kept time with my foot. The stony gaze of Madame Pierrot did not extend to the garden. I felt freer out here. I heard the soft sound of the bell being rung. I dismissed the girls. An hour to myself! I hurried to my room to fetch my stretch pad and to head back out into the garden.
I sat near Helen's grave sketching the likeness as I remembered her. The drawing would be added to the pile of others I had of her. None of them satisfied me. Her ethereal beauty could not be captured with charcoal or drawing pencils. Closing my eyes I conjured up her face. An angelic halo of light surrounded the image whenever I pictured her face. She knew she was dying. She asked me to lie next to her the last night of her life. Her body wracked with consumption she coughed incessantly. Her skin cold to the touch. We cuddled under the too-thin blankets trying to extract warmth from one another. Sometime in the night the air changed and I awoke. Helen died expelling her last breath as I tried to breath my life's essence into her. Helen! I screamed. Footsteps ran to the sick room. Hands lifted me away from her. I screamed louder. Take her back to her bed, they said. Helen is dead.
They buried her next to the bench I sat on, a small plot filled with girls dead before their prime. Spring came early that year. I planted her favourite flower, gillyflowers. I stopped my musings and put charcoal to paper again. I drew a gillyflower with Helen's face coming out from the center of it. Happy with this one I smiled. Another image came to me as I stared at Helen's face. The image of the angel she said visited her, the angel who gave her kisses on the neck. I shuddered as I recalled the image of the woman in white when I was locked in the room where my uncle had died. I thought she was a vampire come to suck my blood. Now, as I stared at Helen's face I surmised that her angel was not an angel but a demon. Doing a quick sketch I drew Helen, her angel as I imagined her to be and the image I saw so very long ago. I heard the bell ring for the evening meal. I stashed the drawing in the back of my sketch pad.
Once the dishes were cleared away by the younger girls, I went in search of Madame Pierrot. She sat near the fireplace in the teacher's drawing room, sewing. She glanced up at me over the rim of her wire-framed glasses.
"I have come for my letter, Madame,"
I held my breath sure that she had burned it. I glanced at the fire to see if any black soot wafted up from the embers. Only tongues of fire licked the wood. I sighed.
Madame Pierrot reached in her pocket. She pulled the letter out staring at it as if she wanted to open it. I took a step towards her snatching the letter before she could put it back in her pocket.
"Thank you," I said sitting down at the desk in the corner. I took a letter opener and slit the side of the envelope. I scanned the contents a wide smile breaking over my lips.
"Dear Miss Eyre,
We are pleased to offer you the post of governess at Thornfield Hall. We have checked your references and have found them to be more than adequate. Please plan to arrive at Thornfield no later than two weeks from the date of this letter. If you do not come by then we will assume you no longer require the post and will look elsewhere. Your ticket by coach is enclosed.
Sincerely yours, Mrs. Fairfax."
I tossed the letter into the air jumping up at the same time. The ticket floated out from the envelope drifting aimlessly to the floor. I scooped it up staring at it. Madame Pierrot gaped at me. Miss Scatcherd, the history teacher looked up from her reading. Miss Smith, the fabric teacher paused in her sewing to see what was amiss. Miss Temple stood up, a wide smile on her face. She ran to embrace me.
"What is going on?" Madame Pierrot asked standing.
"Jane has a position! She saw an advertisement and now she has a post!" Miss Temple smiled.
I wrote accepting the post but told Mrs. Fairfax I would not be able to come until after graduation in June. I wanted to see Miss Temple marry Mr. Nasmyth. She wrote back stating it would be acceptable to expect me at the end of June.
Miss Temple and her clergyman, Mr. Nasmyth made a handsome couple. I gave them a sketch I did of them as a wedding gift. In the sketch Miss Temple has her head on Mr. Nasmyth's shoulder. She has a sweet expression on her face and a circlet of flowers around her forehead. Mr. Nasmyth is leaning his head against hers. His expression is full of contentment. It is clear they are in love. For some reason the sketch brings tears to my eyes. I roll it up before I can drip tears on it securing it with a pink ribbon. On the day of the wedding I handed it to Miss Temple right after the ceremony. They were leaving by carriage to go to a parish outside of London where Mr. Nasmyth would lead a congregation. Miss Temple called Mr. Nasmyth over to look at the sketch with her.
"Why, Jane, this is lovely," he said examining the paper. "Do I look that brave and handsome my dear?" he asked Miss Temple, no—Mrs. Nasmyth.
"You do and do I look as lovely as Jane has drawn me?" she asked smiling at me.
"Yes, she has captured you in all your beauty," he said embracing her. He put on his hat. "Come dear the carriage awaits." He turned to me. "I hope you will come and visit us, Jane."
"I shall try but Yorkshire is far," I said.
"It is indeed," he said taking his wife's arm. She stopped to give me a goodbye kiss on the cheek.
"Keep well, Jane and good luck at your new post."
She pressed something into my hand. "A gift, it belonged to my mother, I want you to have it." A lace handkerchief was folded over. I lifted the edges of it. Inside was a brooch, a gold circle inlaid with pearls. It was small but it suited me.
"But, this is yours, you should give it to your daughter when you have one."
She shook her head. "I want you to have it, Jane. It's for all the heartache you have suffered. Go to Yorkshire and find happiness there as I have found happiness with Mr. Nasmyth."
"Thank you. I wish happiness for the two of you." I kissed both her cheeks and waved as they entered the carriage. I patted my pocket where the ticket lay. Mrs. Fairfax had sent me another one. I was due to leave on the morrow. I could not wait.
I bade the carriage driver take my trunk to put on the top of the carriage. I stood looking at the faded front of Lowood. It had been my home for ten years yet I knew that I would not miss it. I turned my back and with the help of the driver, got into the carriage. I kept my eyes forward as I rode to meet my fate.
I spent several days on the road. The coach stopped at various establishments so the passengers and horses could rest. Once we got to Yorkshire I was anxious to stay on the road but the driver insisted we stop for the night. I made my way inside securing a room for the night as my ticket warranted. Sitting at a table with my sketch book drawing the faces of the crowd around me relaxed me. The innkeeper brought me soup and bread, standard fare for the travelers. I thanked him. He plunked down a tankard of ale next to me.
"Thank you but I prefer tea if you have some," I said.
He nodded getting up again.
I took out the letter from Mrs. Fairfax and read it over again. It did not seem real that I was on my way to a different life. One that I imagined but not one I thought would ever happen. The innkeeper brought me a cup of tea. He settled his bulk down next to me taking the tankard in one large beefy hand he downed it.
"Ah," he said setting the tankard back down on the table. "Good ale." He glanced at the letter in my hand.
"You heading there?" he asked pointing to the seal that graced the letter.
"Yes, I am the new governess at Thornfield. I begin as soon as I arrive."
"No, miss you cannot," he said getting up. His face had a look of horror on it. I blanched. What did he mean?
"Explain yourself, sir," I said.
"There are monsters living there, or so I've heard."
He looked around the room until his eyes fell upon a young girl serving a table in the corner. "See? There is Ellie, my youngest. She went to Thornfield to be a maid last year. She disappeared for a bit then we found her wandering the moors half-dead. She ain't been right in the head since." He shouted over the din. "Ellie! Come here girl!"
The girl lifted her head and walked stiffly over to them a pitcher of water in her hands. Jane saw that the girl was young, barely sixteen. Her eyes were a deep blue but vacant. She turned to look at Jane.
"What is it, Father?" she asked in a monotone voice. She seemed stilted and stiff. Her movements jerked as she shifted the pitcher from one arm to the other.
"Tell this lady about Thornfield Manor."
"I have not visited there," she said, her eyes drifted to the door.
She seemed transfixed with the doorway. I turned my head to look at the doorway too but saw nothing. My glance back to Ellie was met with another vacant stare. This time her hand went to her neck, fingering the side of it as if the action itself could evoke a memory. Angel kisses.
"Have you been kissed by an angel, Ellie?" I asked.
Her eyes widened and she nodded. "An angel comes to me and kisses me here," she indicated the side of her neck. "It hurts for a time but I am used to it now."
"What does this angel look like?" I asked.
"She is dressed all in white with long dark hair and eyes as black as the deepest well."
"Enough talk of angels, Ellie, get back to work."
"Yes, Father." As if her limbs were on strings she jerked back to filling water of the patrons.
"You see? She has no memory of that place yet she was there for an entire year. And this talk of angels is disturbing. We are not a religious family although we asked the parson to see her when she returned from Thornfield."
"And what did he say?"
"He said that she was touched by God, but I do not think so. She is changed. She used to be such a happy child, running and laughing. When Thornfield asked for an upstairs maid of course we thought of Ellie. She loved working here with us and the customers adored her. " He smiled as he remembered his daughter in different times. "But after we found her wandering she no longer laughs or smiles. She does as she is told but no more. I fear for her future. "
"What do you believe happened to her at Thornfield?" I asked taking a sip tea.
"I do not know. I tried to talk to them about it. I went to see the housekeeper but she said that Ellie disappeared soon after they engaged her. She had no idea she was not at home. She assumed she got homesick and came back here." He sighed again. "I do not believe that Ellie wandered the moors alone for more time than we thought. No, something happened at that house and if you go there you may end up like Ellie."
"I am sure she will be fine in time." I paused. "Has the doctor seen her? Perhaps she is ill with a fever of some unknown sort."
"The doctor has seen her and he believes she was ill and has not yet recovered. He does not know if she will ever recover. See how pale she is? Even in the firelight she looks as if death is knocking at her door." He watched Ellie walk around the tables filling water glasses. She stood still if someone spoke to her then moved on as if in a trance. "She is so restless. She paces the floors all night long yet denies feeling tired. We are afraid to let her go for a walk alone. We let her go on one last week, she begged us to let her go. She came home in a worse state. Like she had been bewitched. Yet we could see no marks on her, no blood. After that we do not let her go outside unless one of us is with her." He hesitated. "Please miss turn around and go back to where you came from."
"Thank you for your concern, but I cannot. I am sure I will be fine." I am not a young child easily frightened. I will be fine. Pasting a brave smile for him I went back to my tea. What sort of place is this Thornfield? He nodded to me before leaving me alone with my thoughts. What awaited me there? I could implore Aunt Reed to take me in until another post was secured. Shaking my head at my own thoughts. No, I will go to Thornfield and if I find anything amiss I will leave. If I had to I could go back to Lowood and teach, not a prospect I relished. I took a spoonful of my soup watching the other patrons. After a good night sleep I would be in a better frame of mind. In the morning I would arrive at Thornfield and see for myself if the place suited me or not. And what sort of demons occupied its walls. If any.
ARRIVAL AT THORNFIELD
The morning dawned clear and bright as I made my way to Thornfield although by the time we were close to it the sun had begun to set. The coach left me some ways from it, although the driver assured me it would be visible as soon as I cleared the trees. I walked down the road, although I hesitated to call it a road since it was barely more than a trail with ruts threatening to trip me as I stepped in and around them. Soon I came to a clearing and there below me in the twilight stood Thornfield Hall. I believe I gasped aloud as I lay my eyes on the splendor of the mansion, for mansion it was, although not as ostentatious as Gateshead Hall, it stood nestled among the trees, a stately stone mansion with turrets and towers that seemed to belong to a different era. I half expected to see a lady dressed from the Tudor courts emerge so awestruck was I as I gazed on it. For an instant I thought I saw something white at one of the higher windows. Perhaps a dove nesting in the overhang. I ventured onward to my destiny.
Mrs. Fairfax-or who I assume was Mrs. Fairfax-came out to greet me as soon as I came within shouting distance of the front entrance. She was a kindly looking older woman, stout throughout her middle with a cap covering her graying hair. Her smile was genuine as she walked toward me.
"Jane Eyre, I believe?"
"Yes, I am Jane Eyre." Now she was in front of me and I stopped walking.
"Welcome, Jane. Oh, it is so good to have someone to converse with again. And Adele will be so happy she has a governess at last. She so longs to learn new songs and dances. Do you sing, Jane?"
"A little, not well but enough to teach a child. How old is Adele, my ward?"
"No one is quite sure but she appears to be eight or nine."
"Appears to be? As her mother, should you not know her age?"
We began walking to the entrance again.
"Bless you, child. Adele is Mr. Rochester's ward. She only came to us last year. She barely speaks a word of English, she is French."
"You are not the lady of the manor?" I had thought Mrs. Fairfax was my employer.
"No, child, I am not. I am the head housekeeper. Mr. Edward Rochester is the owner of this magnificent mansion. He and I are cousins of a sort."
"Will I meet Mr. Rochester and Mrs. Rochester?"
"No, there is no Mrs. Rochester and Mr. Rochester is away on business. He often stays away for weeks, sometimes months at a time. But enough about that, you will discover the why and wherefores soon I believe. Now Adele is waiting to meet you. Come in and welcome to Thornfield Hall."
I followed her in to a small parlour where a pianoforte sat in the corner of the room. A small dark haired girl sat on the bench plunking keys in a sad way. Her head jerked up when we came into the room and I saw that she was quite pretty, with a small face, pleasing features and a happy countenance about her. She wore a pink frock decorated with white bows here and there, white stockings and pink shoes. Her hair, done up in ringlets, held a pink bow. She ran up to me, curtseyed and bade me welcome in French.
"You see how she babbles on?" Mrs. Fairfax said. "I do not understand a word she says. Perhaps you can make heads or tails of it."
"Yes, I understand her although she does speak very rapidly," I said to Mrs. Fairfax. I turned to Adele speaking to her in French. "Adele, thank you for your welcome, please try and speak English around Mrs. Fairfax since she does not speak your native language."
"Oui, Madame Eyre, I have un petit anglais."
"You may call me, Miss Eyre, Adele," I said in French and repeated it in English.
"You do seem to have a way with her already," Mrs. Fairfax said. "Adele has prepared a welcome song and dance for you, if you would be so kind to sit? Shall I have tea brought? Or perhaps you are too tired to listen to a child's song tonight."
"No, that will be fine." I sat down removing my travel cloak. At that moment a man came in looking at Mrs. Fairfax.
"Pardon me, Mrs. Fairfax but the coach has brought Miss Eyre's trunk. Where shall I put it?"
"Thank you, John. Please put it in the room at the top of the stairs on the right. It is the room we prepared for Miss Eyre. Oh, and make sure there is a fire in the grate to take off the chill of the evening."
"Yes, Mrs. Fairfax." He donned a cap and went about his business. Adele cleared her throat, bowed and began to sing in a clear, sweet voice. Mrs. Fairfax smiled as Adele sang and danced about. I felt my cheeks redden as I translated the words of the song.
"What does she sing about?" Mrs. Fairfax asked. "Her voice is so lovely and she dances as light as a feather."
"She sings about her lost love," I said. Although that was not entirely true. The song was about a woman who loved more than one man and how she enjoyed being with each one night after night. It was a bawdy song not sung in the presence of ladies of gentility who would be horrified at the child's song. I clapped my hands together and Adele stopped in the middle of a verse.
"Merci, Adele. Now I believe it is time for bed."
She looked crestfallen but did as she was told. She came over to me and embraced me telling me she was happy I had come to teach her. She even gave Mrs. Fairfax a kiss on the cheek which delighted the housekeeper immensely.
The time I spent at Thornfield Hall fell into a routine. Adele and I did lessons in the mornings, often venturing outside to sketch or collect flowers for nature study. I ate my luncheon with Mrs. Fairfax and supper with her. After supper and Adele was in bed Mrs. Fairfax got her knitting and I either read or sketched in front of the fire in the front parlour. All in all it was a quiet but satisfying life. I often wondered about the master of Thornfield but since he was not, at present, at the estate, I thought that no one except Mrs. Fairfax, Adele and the servants lived at the hall. Some of the servants came from Millcote Village, no one other than Mrs. Fairfax, John, who was the overall handy man and kept the horses, and Grace Poole slept at the estate. Grace Poole was an odd woman who kept to herself, only coming down to get her meals and carrying them back up the stairs. She lived in the west turret tower room and there she did the mending and sewing.
One evening, when the twilight darkened the sky, I took it upon myself to walk the lane above the hall. I went for walks on a daily basis, it helped to clear my mind and the exercise did my limbs good since I was shut up in the schoolroom all day with Adele. She was a good child, although she thought about her looks more than she should, always preening in front of mirrors or looking at her reflection in the windows of the nursery. She bade me sketch her face many times and each time she would scrutinize the drawing with an intense stare and then compare the sketch with her own image. Satisfied she looked the same in either the sketch or the mirror she would curtsey and thank me for the drawing.
On the evening in question I paused on the lane to get my bearings. I had walked further than I planned and my legs tired. The dark was coming on sooner than I hoped it would and I was anxious to get back to the hall and my bed. Clutching my sketchbook under my arm I raced down the lane looking neither left nor right but I heard a sound behind me that meant there was a horse approaching. Too late I jumped out of the way, scrambling into the grass as a huge black stallion-or so it seemed-reared up next to me upsetting the rider who fell rather clumsily onto the ground. The horse neighed and reared up at me.
"Pilot, no!" he shouted and a great black dog bounded up to me startling me with its huge body. I stood still, being unafraid of dogs and saw that the dog was not apt to bite me but lick me. I laughed at it ruffling its head.
"The deuce, help me up, my ankle is turned," said the man.
I went over to him allowing him to use my shoulder so he could stand. He limped over to the horse who shied away from me.
"Hold his reins steady, fairy girl." I held the horse as steady as I could so he could resit his saddle. "Where are you from?" he asked.
"I am from Thornfield Hall, just beyond." I pointed to the direction I had come from. "Do you know it?"
"I do. And what do you do there, girl?"
"I am the governess."
"Ah. And who are you?"
"I am Jane Eyre, sir."
He nodded. "Now allow me to seat my horse again and do not jump out at strange horses on the lane. Go back to your fairyland and tell your fairies that your mission to capture a human has failed." He clicked his tongue and the horse took off. "Pilot, come!" he commanded, the dog having left my side bounded away to catch the horse. The darkness was now complete and I had a hard time seeing my way back to Thornfield, but, find my way I did and I was met at the door by Mrs. Fairfax.
"Hurry in, Jane. The master has come home at last! He is in the parlour, he suffered an accident on the way here, fell off his horse I believe but he is not so very injured. I have sent for the surgeon to make sure his ankle is not broken." She ushered me in in haste. "Go and put on your best frock, Mr. Rochester wishes to meet the governess!"
MR. ROCHESTER MEETS JANE
I put on my only other frock, a gray one instead of the black I wore for everyday. At least it had lace at the collar and at the end of the sleeves. I pinned the brooch Miss Temple, I mean Mrs. Nasmyth gave me on the bodice, smoothed my hair and went downstairs.
Knocking softly on the parlour door I was surprised when Adele opened it and bade me come in using French. She giggled running over to Mrs. Fairfax who sat on a settee her knitting in her lap. Adele was babbling about presents but I paid no heed to her. My eyes drifted to the dog lying in front of the fire. This was the same dog as I had encountered in the lane! In order to test myself in case it was merely my imagination I called to the dog.
"Here, Pilot," I said. The dog lumbered to his feet and came over to me nuzzling my hand.
"Pilot! Back to your spot by the fire!" commanded the man in the chair. His back was to me but I had no doubt this was the same man who fell off his horse. I wished I had gotten a better look at him in the twilight. His voice sounded rough and coarse and I hoped he was not a cruel man. His leg, the ankle in question I assume was propped on a footstool with a pillow under it. He beckoned to me as I stood contemplating what I should say.
"Come here, governess. Come around so I may see you better. The confounded surgeon says I must elevate my foot until the swelling goes down. Deuce it all! Come here, I say."
"Go on, Jane," Mrs. Fairfax said from the settee smiling at me.
With reluctance I strode over to the front of the chair staying in the shadows.
"No, closer and move into the light, I wish to see your face," Mr. Rochester said.
I moved closer. He nodded. "It is you. Mrs. Fairfax, this is the fairy I told you about. The one that frightened my horse as she came out of the mist."
"Ah, a fairy named Jane," said Mrs. Fairfax leaning down to say something to Adele.
"I am no fairy, I am Jane Eyre, Adele's governess."
"That is yet to be ascertained." He smiled as I raised my eyebrows at him. "Oh, it is certain you are Adele's governess, but I still believe you have the look of a fairy about you, your face is so pale and little and you are just a bit of a thing. And those eyes, staring at me as if you could see down to my very soul."
I stood silent, not knowing what to say about his comments. He snapped his fingers and Adele ran over to him chattering in French and English. "Yes, child there is a present for you. I should make you wait for it but I know you would plague me like a buzzing insect until I gave in. Look in my valise near the door and you will find what you pine for," he answered in French. Adele squealed and ran over to the valise, opening it and pulling clothes and all manner of things out of it until she came to a wrapped bundle. She brought the bundle to the settee and unwrapped the paper. Inside was a doll with blonde ringlets and blue eyes dressed in what I was sure was Paris finery. Adele squealed again and hugged the doll to her chest saying, "Merci, merci Monsieur Rochester," She ran over to him and kissed him on both cheeks as was the French custom. He waved her away. "Mrs. Fairfax, please take this abominable child to the nursery at once, she is overexcited. I wish to speak to her governess alone." It was part of my job to put Adele to bed and I know that Mrs. Fairfax did not like to be put in the position of usurping anyone so I intervened.
"I will take Adele to the nursery and afterwards I will return."
Without waiting for an answer I went over to Adele and held out my hand to her. "Bedtime, Adele, you may bring your doll." She gave a curtsey to Mrs. Fairfax who got up nodding at her.
Once I had settled Adele in, no small feat I might add since she was still so excited about her present and that Mr. Rochester was home again. Finally, she lay quiet, the doll next to her and her eyes drifted close as I left the nursery.
I made my way back down the stairs passing Mrs. Fairfax on my way.
"Oh? Am I not to return to the library?"
"Mr. Rochester has retired for the evening. You should do the same, my dear. Good night."
I had occasion to observe Mr. Rochester during the evenings when he would call Adele to the library. I went with her, of course. On these pleasant nights I often read aloud while Mrs. Fairfax knitted and Adele played quietly in the corner with her doll. Mr. Rochester spoke little but scowled if I stumbled over a word. He watched Adele closely mumbling to himself about her vanity, of which she was quite proud.
It was the afternoon when we were walking through the garden that he spoke of Adele's mother.
"Here name was Celine Varens. A French dancer. I fancied a grande passion with her. She professed the same towards me. Or so I thought. I set her up in the finest hotel, gave her a carriage to ride around Paris in. Money to spend. In short, I was a fool for her. One night I came to visit her but she was out. I stepped out onto the balcony to have a smoke while I waited for her return. Imagine my surprise when she did return but she was not alone. No, she brought a cavalier with her. She alighted from the carriage first, I saw her little shoe peep out from her cloak. He came after her, tall, handsome and lean in his officer's uniform. He took her elbow and the two of them proceeded to come inside. Have you ever been jealous, Miss Eyre? No, of course you have not. Well, the green-eyed demon lived within my soul that night. I should have made my presence known but I hesitated. I hid in the shadows as they came in, laughing and speaking as lovers do. Oh, yes, do not raise your eyebrows to me. I know they were lovers. I felt it here. I heard them chattering and whispering together. My card was on the table and they gave such coarse, vile descriptions of me. My horrid Englishman was the more polite one. It stung because she always went on and on about my beauteous face. I still did not make my presence known. Soon they went out and after waiting a while, I left. I was done with her. Any love I may have felt for her vanished in the moment I saw my rival. A silly, brainless boy with nary an intelligent thought. Soon after I heard she ran away to Italy with a singer. She left behind that one. Adele."
"Are you her father?"
"No, Miss Eyre. I am not. Although for a time I thought I was. I now know that I am not. I could not leave her alone in Paris, who knows what troubles she would get into? So, I arranged for her to come here to England. She is officially my ward."
I kept my silence.
"Now you will look upon your charge with less than a favourable eye, I believe. She is the illegitimate daughter of a French dancer. Perhaps you will ask to be relieved of your governess duties and seek another post elsewhere."
"Adele is not to blame for her mother's faults. I look more favorably upon her now that I know she is an orphan, parentless as I am. She is in need of the care I can give her. Poor orphan girl."
"Ah, I see where your heart lies. It darkens, Miss Eyre. We should retire, I believe."
As I slept I dreamed of smoke filling my room, making it hard for me to breathe. I awoke with a start. Someone was trying my doorknob. A rattle. Then another. Laughter. Not the kind of laughter that others would smile at, this laughter was demonical, evil, cold.
"Mrs. Fairfax?" I asked at the door. I heard running footsteps. Cautiously I peered out. A light shone under Mr. Rochester's door. Flickering light. Light of a hundred candles.
"Fire!" I shouted opening his door. Flames rushed out at me as I fought my way inside. The bed curtains were on fire! Mr. Rochester lay prone on the bed, unconscious from the noxious fumes and smoke. "Mr. Rochester!" I shouted. He was oblivious to my shouts. I grabbed a pitcher of water from his dressing table and dumped it on his face. He sputtered, angry at being awoken in so crude a manner.
"What the devil? Jane Eyre?"
"Fire, sir. Your bed curtains are on fire!" He jumped out of bed pulling down the curtains with my help. Smothering them with other bedclothes we managed to put the fire out at last.
"I am fortunate you came to my rescue, Jane." He swayed on his feet. I helped him to a chair.
"It is no more than anyone would have done in the same circumstances, sir."
"But what possessed you to come to my room?" He indicated the desk chair.
I sat in it, perched on the edge since my nightdress was soaked through and black with soot.
"I awoke when I heard someone at my door. I then heard a strange laugh. I opened my door to see who was in the hall. I noticed a candlestick on the floor when I saw the fire beneath your door."
"You saw no one, you are sure?"
"I saw no one but heard the laughter of a demon. So cold it froze my blood."
"You have heard that laugh before I think."
"I have. There is a woman here who sews for Mrs. Fairfax. I have heard her laugh that way. She is a peculiar person, sir."
"Yes, Grace Poole, she is peculiar but Mrs. Fairfax will have no other in her place."
He stared at me. "Thank you again, Jane. You are shivering with cold. Take this blanket and go back to your room. Tell no one of this night, promise me?"
"I promise, sir."
"Then I shall bid you goodnight, Jane. Remember, tell no one."
"Wait, are you going?"
"You told me to go, sir."
"But not this way. A word of encouragement, perhaps. You saved my life, Jane. May I call you, Jane?"
"Ah, but you are cold. Standing in a pool of water. You must retire to your bed as promised. I shall sleep on the library sofa. Be well, Jane."
Dismissed, I left. I tried to sleep but restless thoughts intruded and as the servants stirred at daylight, so did I.
I wondered what Mr. Rochester would say about the fire. As I went down to breakfast Mrs. Fairfax was talking about it to Sarah.
"Imagine, the bed curtains caught fire. I have told him and told him not to read in bed with a candle burning but he will not listen. Thank goodness he was not hurt."
"Were you aware of the commotion, Jane? Your room is near his."
"No, I slept through it all."
"It's going to be a devil of a time to clean it and replace the curtains. The room is filled with soot and water. Mr. Rochester had the good sense to throw his water pitcher on the fire before he stomped it out."
"Yes, that was good sense," I said.
After breakfast I ventured to Mr. Rochester's room to see the damage in the daylight. Leah, one of the maids was scrubbing the windows. And in a chair near the bed sat the woman in question sewing curtain rings. Grace Poole herself. I asked her what had happened in the room.
"Master set his bed curtains afire. Lucky he wasn't hurt. Your room is nearby, did you not hear anything?"
"I did. I thought I heard a noise outside my door."
"And you did not think to check on the noise?"
"No. I thought it was Pilot at my door. I did hear a strange laugh."
"What kind of a laugh?"
"I cannot describe it. But I have heard it before."
"Have you?" Just then the cook came in telling Grace her tray was ready. She handed the curtain rings to Leah and left.
No one spoke against her. She was not dismissed or taken into custody. I wondered why.
All that day I did not see or hear Mr. Rochester. I hoped he would send for me after dinner as was his wont. But, Mrs. Fairfax came into the library with her knitting as usual.
"Shall we put on the tea for us?"
"I will ask Leah to do it," I said getting up.
Once I had told her to put the kettle on, I settled down with a book near the fire.
Mrs. Fairfax looked out the window and exclaimed. "Ah, see the stars glimmer? Mr. Rochester will have a favourable night for his journey."
"Journey, he is not at home?"
"No, he has gone to the Leas. Eshton's Place, is where he goes. There is a fine group of persons there he enjoys. I do believe he will be gone for a week or more."
"Are there ladies at the Leas?"
"Quite so. Mrs. Eshton, and her daughters. Lord Ingram and there are the Ingram girls. Blanche and Mary. I have seen them many times over the years. Miss Ingram is often considered the belle of the evening pleasantries, she is very fine to look upon."
"Yes, dark hair, black as a raven's, olive skin, very exotic. Large luminous eyes, not unlike Mr. Rochester's. Tall with a swan like neck, rounded shoulders and a fine bust. She is very handsome indeed."
"And does she have any accomplishments?"
"Oh, my yes. She sings like a canary. Mr. Rochester often sings duets with her. They have wonderful harmonies. Miss Ingram's voice is melodious and she also plays the pianoforte quite well."
"Yet she is still unmarried, I assume?"
"She is not yet married. But I believe her mother has high hopes for her and her sister, despite their meager fortunes."
"Perhaps some rich gentleman will take a fancy to her. Mr. Rochester, perhaps?"
"Oh, no. Their age difference is too great. She is but twenty and five, he is nearly forty."
"But what does age mean to love?"
"You are but young, Jane. You do not understand the ways of the world yet."
"I understand enough, Mrs. Fairfax. I know that if I loved someone, age would not matter."
At that moment Adele came in looking for cakes and we took another tact in our conversation.
VISITORS TO THORNFIELD
A week passed. Then ten days. And still no Mr. Rochester. At last after a fortnight, a letter came to Mrs. Fairfax.
"Is it from Mr. Rochester?" I asked. The heat from the coffee I was drinking made my face hot.
"It is. He is coming back in three days. And he will bring the party from the Leas here! There is much to be done. We must prepare the best bedrooms, dust and beat the rugs, oh." Mrs. Fairfax was lost in her own thoughts.
I ignored the jumpy feeling that threatened my insides. Mr. Rochester was coming home!
The three days passed in a flurry of maids, cleaning, cooking. Adele and I helped out when we could. The only person who did not help was Grace Poole. Once a day I saw her emerge from her third story room, say a word or two to one of the servants, collect her meal and her porter and return back to the third floor, locking herself in. I marveled at her non-attendance in all this busyness.
On Thursday, a mild spring day. Mrs. Fairfax dressed in her best gown in order to receive the company and show them to their rooms. Adele, too was dressed in a party frock but I had my doubts that Mr. Rochester would call for her. I stayed in the nursery content to be in a quiet place away from the bustle.
The day wore on and still no Mr. Rochester. Mrs. Fairfax sent John to the road to see if he could see them coming from Millcote. A few minutes later he returned nodding at her.
"They are on their way. They should arrive in a few minutes."
Adele and I went to the window to watch. The light was beginning to fade but we could see the party as they arrived. Men on horseback, including Mr. Rochester on his black stallion. Two carriages filled with the ladies, I assume. One of the horses held a lady with a long purple riding cloak. She wore a hat topped with a purple feather and matching veil.
"Miss Ingram," gasped Mrs. Fairfax hurrying out the door to greet the guests.
I did not get a good look at her before the party moved toward the front of the mansion.
Adele implored me to let her go down and see the party but I refused.
"No, you must wait until Mr. Rochester calls for you, cherie. Are you hungry?" I asked her in French.
"Stay here and I will fetch us some supper."
I snuck down the back stairs to the kitchen. Cook bustled around, several new servants, including ones from the party mulled around. I threaded through them to the larder securing chicken, rolls and tarts for Adele and myself. I grabbed plates, forks and knives. I hastily made my way back up the stairs but in order to get to the schoolroom I had to pass by the bedrooms of the ladies. I felt, rather than heard the commotion as I entered the hall. They were emerging for dinner. I stood in the shadows not wanting to be seen as they piled into the hall chattering like many coloured birds descending on the ground and then flying off without a sound. Soon, the hall was empty and I proceeded to the schoolroom. There, Adele had been watching through a crack in the door.
"Oh, Miss Eyre, did you not see the ladies? They are so beautiful? Oui? Will Mr. Rochester call for me after dinner? I want to see the ladies up close."
"I do not know but probably not. He is too busy and it is too late. Here is your dinner. Perhaps you will see them tomorrow. Eat your dinner, Adele."
She ate and so did I. I let her chatter on in French. As soon as she was done the two of crept out into the hall to watch the servants go to and fro. At last the party migrated to the drawing room and the sounds of a pianoforte could be heard. Presently voices raised in song floated up to us. I listened carefully and thought I could distinguish Mr. Rochester's dulcet tones but perhaps I was mistaken. Presently I felt a little head drooping on my shoulder. Adele was nearly asleep. I carried her to her room and tucked her in. Wishing her good night in French.
I remarked to Mrs. Fairfax how eager Adele was to be presented to the ladies and she smiled. "Mr. Rochester has asked for Adele, this very evening. He said to me that Adele shall be presented in her best frock after dinner and that Miss Eyre should bring her."
"Oh, no. You must be mistaken, he did not ask for me specifically."
"Yes, he was quite adamant about it. Make sure Miss Eyre brings her, he said."
"Very well. I will bring the child."
Adele was in a state all the day deciding what frock she should wear.
"Do you not wish to change into your party dress?" she asked me as I brushed her hair attempting to put it into curls.
"I have no party dress, Adele. The ladies are not going to be presented to me, only to you. I will take you to the drawing room and retire."
She seemed content with my answer. I had two dresses here at Thornfield Manor. My black everyday one and the gray one with a bit of lace at the collar and sleeves. It would not be seemly for me to wear the gray so I contented myself with getting Adele ready. At last she was presentable.
As we neared the drawing room we heard laughter, voices of all kinds, and the clinking of glasses. I knocked and entered holding tight onto Adele's hand. She seemed shy at first but when she saw Mr. Rochester standing by the pianoforte she rushed over to him, grabbing his hand and chattering in French at him. I retreated into the shadows by the door, waiting to see if I was still needed.
"Ah, here is my ward, Adele Varens. Ladies and gentlemen, my ward." Adele, to her credit, curtseyed and smiled at each one in turn.
"This is the French coquette you speak of?" The lady speaking had to be Miss Blanche Ingram for she fit the description Mrs. Fairfax gave of her.
"It is indeed. Adele, this is Miss Ingram. Say hello to her."
"Bonjour, Madamoiselle," Adele said in her lilting voice.
Miss Ingram laughed. "Why she is charming, Edward, simply charming."
She paused. "But I thought you were not fond of children."
"I am not."
"What then possessed you to take in this child, should you not have sent her to school?"
"Schools are expensive, and I wished to have her here at Thornfield."
"Do you have a governess for her? Oh, I suppose you do, I saw a person lurking in the shadows earlier, I presume it is she. There she is, still in the shadows. You pay her, no doubt. Yet I believe that paying for a governess would be more expensive than sending the child to school abroad."
"I have not thought about it," Mr. Rochester stated. I thought he might look my way but his eyes never strayed from their stance, straight ahead.
Miss Ingram laughed. "You should hear mama on the subject of governesses. Mary and I had several, more than a dozen, each one more detestable than the previous. She has much to say on the subject, don't you mama?"
Dowager Ingram, every bit as handsome as her two daughters with a fine figure and hair as black as Miss Ingram's smiled. "What's that, dear?"
"Oh, don't get me started on that subject, dear. You know how I feel about that low class."
"Don't hold back on my account," said Mr. Rochester.
"Well, I notice yours hiding in the shadows there with all the faults of her class plain to see. I should speak to you in private about them."
"Speak as you will, Lady Ingram," Mr. Rochester said.
"Blanche is nearer to you, let her have her say," Lady Ingram said nodding at her daughter.
"My sister and I used to play tricks on ours. They were so ignorant, incompetent and laughable."
"How so?" Mr. Rochester asked.
"Our last governess ran off with my brother's tutor? Innocence betrayed!" Miss Ingram went on to pontificate about the horrors of governesses. Finally, she stopped waving a hand in front of her face. "I am done with the talk of governesses, pray let us change the subject for good."
"Ours were good to us," said one of Misses Eshton.
Miss Ingram covered her ears with her hands. "Please, no discourse on the virtues of governesses. Please! I have a need to express myself in song. Signoir Eduardo, are you in fine voice tonight?"
"I will be if you wish it," Mr. Rochester answered.
"Then let us sing our troubles away," Miss Ingram said. "Mr. Rochester, sing and I will play for you." She seated herself at the bench, spreading her white gown over it. Nodding her head she smiled.
"Your wish is my command," said he.
His voice was a mellow bass, melodious to hear and when blended with the equally dulcet tones of Miss Ingram, harmonious indeed. As they were engaged in their duet and Adele ensconced between the two Misses Eshton, I made my exit out the side door. Once through I leaned against it, my face hot from the way Miss Ingram and Dowager Ingram spoke about my class of governesses. I heard the music stop, a smattering of applause and sought to walk away. Just then the side door opened and Mr. Rochester came out into the hall.
"Miss Eyre? You are leaving so soon? But you did not seek me out to speak to me. Why not?"
"You were engaged, sir."
"How did you fare in my absence, Miss Eyre? Did you take cold after the soaking the night of the fire?"
"I did not, I am well, sir."
"You appear paler than before but perhaps it is the dim light in here. Come back to the drawing room, you may not leave it so soon."
"I am tired, sir."
"And a little depressed? What has gotten my fairy so sad?"
"I am not depressed, sir."
"You are, I say you are. In fact you are so depressed if I am not mistaken tears shine in your eyes this very minute. If we continue in this vein I believe you will be so sad you will cry right here and now."
"No, sir, you are mistaken. I am just tired."
"Well, then if I did not fear that Miss Ingram would come searching for me soon, I would get to the bottom of this sadness of yours. I say good night to you, my. . .uh, good night, Miss Eyre."
"Good night, sir."
The party continued their stay. I brought Adele each evening after dinner to be petted and fawned over. The night in question, I knocked and entered as usual. Mr. Rochester was not in attendance. I sat in the window seat half hidden by the curtains keeping an eye on Adele.
Presently John came to the door. "Excuse me, ladies and gentleman but there is a visitor here for Mr. Rochester."
"He is not here," said Lord Ingram, the brother of Miss Ingram and Mary.
Within a few minutes John was back. "Excuse me again, but the visitor asks to wait for Mr. Rochester's return. Shall I send him in?"
"Why not?" said Dowager Ingram. "We could do with another hand at cards. Send him in."
The visitor appeared at the door bowing to the room. "Forgive my intrusion but I wish to see Mr. Rochester on urgent business." He had a strange accent.
"He is not here and we do not know when he will return," said Lord Ingram. "But you are welcome to stay with us and enjoy our company. Do you play at cards, sir?"
"I do, thank you."
"Where are you from, sir?" asked the Dowager. "You have a lovely accent."
"Spanish Town, Jamaica. Forgive me for not introducing myself, I am Richard Mason."
"Ah, come and join us then Mr. Mason," said Miss Ingram scooting her chair over to make room.
Adele flitted around the room like a colourful bird, taking bon-bons from a dish. I knew she would make herself sick on them but spoiling her once in a while would do no harm.
John came to the door again. "I am sorry for this interruption but there is a gypsy woman at the door begging for supper."
"Give her some food and tell her to be on her way," said Miss Ingram engrossed in the cards she held in her hand.
"She has been fed but she wishes to tell the fortunes of the single ladies of the household as payment. She will not leave until this deed has been done."
"Oh, I want my fortune told," said Mary standing up. She looked around at her sister and the Misses Eshton. "Shall we play this new game?" Her eyes sparkled with excitement.
"By all means," Lady Ingram said. "I am content to sit by the fire."
"I'll go first," Mary said.
She went out with John and returned a while later smiling and nodding. "It was marvelous, she bade me not to reveal anything until all the ladies fortunes had been told. Mother, you are next."
After the Dowager, the Misses Eshtons and finally, Miss Ingram. She returned with a scowl , bright red spots on her cheeks and with an angry step.
"My dear, what did the old woman say to you?" asked the Dowager.
"She said I would die penniless and alone. I would not marry the rich gentleman I longed to marry and in fact, he despised me wholeheartedly."
"I am to marry rich and live a happy life in London," Mary said.
"And I am to marry again and retire to the country, with never a want," said the Dowager.
John stood with his hat in his hand. "Pardon me, but the gypsy said there is one more lady whose fortune she wishes to tell."
"Who is that?" asked the Dowager. "We have all had our fortunes told."
Miss Ingram's eyes fell on me. "Does she mean the governess? Surely not."
"She is single," said her brother.
"And likely to stay so," said the Dowager.
John nodded at me and I followed him out. I went to the library door and knocked before entering.
There at a table sat a woman dressed in black with a black shawl over her head staring down at the table. "Come closer, my dear. Give me your hand so I may read your fortune."
I handed her my hand and she held it in hers, tracing the lines over and over.
"So little lines, barely there. I sense you have not lived yet. Kneel here and let me see your countenance, for I wish to study your face."
I knelt by the fire but the heat soon made me swoon. "Be quick about it, gypsy, for the fire scorches me."
"I believe you are afraid, girl."
"I am not."
"You are afraid because you think that when the master of this house marries, you will be put out in the cold, do you not?"
"He is close to being married, is he not?"
"Yes, his bride awaits him within. I believe they will be married soon. Old woman, I do not wish to hear Mr. Rochester's fortune but my own."
"Your fortune and his are tied in together," she said. I pondered this, nodding. Suddenly she stood up took off her shawl and scarf and revealed herself to be none other than Mr. Rochester himself!
"Sir!" I breathed standing up. "What game is this?"
"One that you have played very well, Jane. I sought to entertain but I could not bring myself to stay silent with you so I have played out the play. Do you think me a fool, Jane?"
"No, not a fool."
"Pray tell me what the drawing room party is talking about."
"Their fortunes, I presume. Oh, and there is a stranger waiting there to see you."
"What stranger? Where is he?"
"He awaits your company in the drawing room. He states he knows you. He is from Jamaica. A Mr. Mason."
Mr. Rochester blanched at the mention of his name. I put out a hand to steady him and he leaned on me.
"Mr. Mason from Jamaica? Oh, Jane. Such a blow to me. Let me lean on your strong shoulder for a moment. I cannot think of what to do next! Mason, here?"
"Shall I help you, sir?"
"Yes, fetch me some wine from the drawing room and tell me what this Mason is doing and saying. Go now and return quickly!"
I did as he asked. Handing him the glass of wine he took a large swallow. "What was Mason saying?"
"Nothing of consequence, sir. He was laughing with the others."
"And if all of them and more besides should spit at me as I walked by and shunned my company, what should you do, Jane?"
"I would comfort you, sir."
"I wish we were on an island, a quiet island with only you and me to enjoy the peace."
"Do you desire anything else, sir?"
"Yes, run to the drawing room and whisper in Mason's ear that I will receive him here in the library. Show him in and then you may retire to your room."
I did as he asked. Once Mr. Mason was in the library I left.
Later that same evening I heard Mr. Rochester showing Mr. Mason to his room with a happy tone to his voice. Whatever had disturbed Mr. Rochester was now resolved. Smiling, I went to sleep content with my world.
Sometime that night a terrible scream broke the silence of the mansion. Doors opened, voices raised in fear. I opened my door to see the party all staring at one another chattering.
Presently Mr. Rochester came down the hall shushing the crowd.
"It is all right, one of our servants, a Grace Poole had a nightmare and woke the entire house with her scream. I have soothed her and she is back to sleep as I implore you to follow her example."
"A nightmare of one of your servants?" asked the Dowager dressed in a nightdress her hair bundled into a mob cap. "Why are there servants on our floor?" She spotted me. "Oh, I see."
Mr. Rochester followed her gaze to me. He took her arm leading her back to her door. "Nothing to fear now, ladies. Please, go back to sleep. All is well, I assure you."
As soon as the crowd had dispersed a knock came upon my door. I opened it to see Mr. Rochester standing there with a candle held high.
"Dress quickly, Jane. I need you to come with me." He shut the door leaving me time to dress. I did so and opened the door again. "Thank you, this way."
"Is it Grace Poole?" I asked. "Is she ill?"
"Silence, please, Jane. I will explain all later on. For now you must be as quiet as a mouse. Do you understand?"
I nodded. We made our way to the third floor up a flight of stairs. At the top was a door that Mr. Rochester opened with a key. The light was dim but I was able to make out a figure lying on a lone bed. Was Grace hurt?
"Do you faint at the sight of blood, Jane?"
"No. I do not think so."
"Then come here and watch closely." He held the candle high and put it on the table next to the bed. The flickering light revealed not Grace as I had suspected but the stranger from Jamaica, Mr. Mason.
"Mr. Mason!" I breathed.
"Just so. He is hurt, Jane. See? Here?" Mr. Rochester pulled a towel from Mr. Mason's neck and it appeared that something had torn part of his neck. A gaping wound lay before me oozing blood. I swallowed making sure I would not swoon.
"Who did this?" I asked. Looking around the room I noticed we were alone. But in the corner I spied a shut door. The handle rattled once then was stilled. "Did you lock Grace in?"
"No questions now, Jane. Do not speak to Mason, promise me? Take this cloth and soak up the blood as it comes out. Rinse it in this basin. Do this again and again until the blood stops or runs clear. Understand?"
"I am to fetch the surgeon. Do not attempt to unlock the door there. Do not speak."
At that moment Mr. Mason's eyelids fluttered open. "She tried to tear out my heart," he said gasping. "She said she wanted to eat it."
"Hush now, Mason. Jane here will tend to you while I fetch the surgeon. Stay still and do not speak to her. I implore you to save your strength."
He turned to me. "Remember, do not speak and do not stop rinsing the wound."
He left and I commenced my duty. Mr. Mason did not speak again but seemed to be in a stupor of sorts. I rinsed and rinsed the blood off but still more seeped through. A large stain spread on the coverlet below him.
Presently Mr. Rochester returned with the surgeon. He looked at the wound with a grave countenance on his face.
"It may be infected with her poison. He will have to be taken to my surgery for further treatment."
"Take him now and hurry, the sun is almost up!" Mr. Rochester said.
"It is dangerous to move him when he has lost so much blood."
"Nevertheless, he cannot stay here. I will help you load him into the carriage but be quick about it!"
"Very well, help me get him up."
"And be still on the stairs, I do not wish to disturb my guests." He turned to me. "Jane? Come with us if you will in case we are in need of your services." I nodded following them out and down to the yard. There a carriage stood waiting. The surgeon and Mr. Rochester bundled Mr. Mason into the carriage and as soon as they were settled, rode off.
Mr. Rochester stood watching until the carriage was out of sight. "Say nothing of this night to anyone, Jane. Do I have your promise?"
"There is blood on your dress and hands. Go to your room and burn it. I will have Grace Poole make you another."
"Grace Poole? After this night you trust her to not attack the household? Why don't you let her go, sir? I don't understand your reluctance in this manner."
"Nor are you likely to. I thank you for your service to me once again, Jane. But I will not have you question my decisions in managing my own household."
"Yes, sir." Chastened I went back inside, making my way to my room. Tears threatened to fall as I took off my dress and put it in the fireplace. Watching it burn I wondered what would happen to me if Mr. Rochester and Miss Ingram married as I thought they might. Making sure my door was locked I crawled back under the covers for a time waiting for the household to stir.
For the next several nights I woke up several times checking my door. Once I heard Grace Poole's laughter in the hall and I feared for Mr. Rochester's safety. But, his door was closed and no flickering light shone under his door. I did see an odd sight, one of the Misses Eshton, walking down the hall with her hand to her neck staring at nothing. I meant to speak to her but she went into her room before I could venture a word. I saw or heard nothing more that night.
At the drawing room that evening I brought Adele as usual. I observed the Misses Eshton sitting on a divan side by side. The one I saw in the hall had a high necked gown on. She looked very pale. Her sister kept her hand on her arm as if keeping her there. I wondered about it. I thought she might be ill. I saw her put her hand to her throat several times. At last she excused herself and left the room. Turning my attention to the others, I watched Mr. Rochester and Miss Ingram interact.
Over the next several days, the more I observed Mr. Rochester and Miss Ingram I felt sure that any day he would announce their engagement. They often had their heads together as they walked the grounds. She held onto his arm as if she needed him to hold her up. He gazed down at her with an adoring look that went straight to my heart. I chided myself for harbouring foolish thoughts about him. Not of a fanciful nature, I soon put myself to rights and anticipated his announcement with-if not pleasure-then resolve. Miss Ingram would be the mistress of Thornfield Hall and I would have to seek employment elsewhere. Often I walked the gardens reveling in their beauty, trying to imprint it on my memory I spent as much time as I could sketching so that I might have a picture to remember this beauty. Once I sketched Mr. Rochester and Miss Ingram, much in the way I had sketched Miss Temple and her beau yea these many months ago. I left it on the drawing room table for Mr. Rochester to see. He picked it up and showed it to Miss Ingram and she exclaimed that although I had my faults as a governess, I was able to capture the essence of both of them in a realistic fashion. Satisfied, I nodded.
Soon all the ladies wished for me to sketch their portraits and I spent time in the afternoons doing just that. Even Adele asked for one. She asked me to do one of Mrs. Fairfax, too. She was surprised as she looked upon it and exclaimed that I did her great justice. She had John frame it and hung it in her quarters. That pleased me to no end.
I began to dread my bedtime. Strange dreams haunted my sleep leaving me restless and fidgety during the day. The past night I had dreamt of an infant crying in my arms and it was still with me. I had trouble buttoning my dress. Mrs. Fairfax came to my door with a message that there was a man in the drawing room asking for me.
Following down the stairs I wondered who it could be. I knew no one other than those around me. As I approached the room and opened the door I was as surprised as I could be.
"Miss Eyre?" he asked.
"Yes, I am she."
"I don't suppose you remember me, miss?"
"Of course I do, you are Robert, one of Mrs. Reed's servants. And you are married to Bessie, are you not? How does she?"
"She is well, as are our children."
"You have news for me?"
"Yes, Miss Eyre. It is your aunt, she is not well."
"What happened? What of the rest of the family?"
"Mr. Reed, John died a week ago and it affected Mrs. Reed. She has been poorly ever since she heard." He paused. "He died suddenly and his death seemed to shock Mrs. Reed but it did not shock me or Bessie. He has not been doing well for these three years. Gambling, loose women, drugs, who knows what else. He used to ask Mrs. Reed for money until he nearly bled her dry." He paused again. "About three weeks ago he came to Gateshead Hall to ask Mrs. Reed to sign the hall over to him. She refused. She had very little left. He did not understand and went away very upset. The news was he killed himself, Miss Eyre."He stared at me. "Mrs. Reed mumbled that she needed to see you. She called for you several times. Bring Jane Eyre to me, she said. I came here and would like to bring you back to Gateshead Hall tomorrow morning if that is acceptable."
"I will be ready to go, Robert. Of course I will see Mrs. Reed again. She is dying?"
"I believe so, and so does the surgeon."
"Wait here and I will seek permission to leave. I will ask Mrs. Fairfax to find you a hot meal and a room."
I went in search of Mr. Rochester but he was not strolling around the grounds, in the garden or at the stables. All the places I supposed he would be. At last Mrs. Fairfax told me she thought he was playing billiards with Miss Ingram in the billiard room. I went there anon. Hearing the click of the billiard balls and the low hum of the voices within made me hesitate at the door. The entire party, the Misses Eshtons, Miss Ingram, Dowager Ingram, Lord Ingram, Mary Ingram and several gentlemen I did not know were within. My errand required me to have courage in the face of these people who so despised governesses. I opened the door and peered inside. Spying Mr. Rochester standing near Miss Ingram he did not see me. But, she did. Her gaze seemed to imply I had no business there. She waved a hand at me as if to dismiss me. I walked in and stood in the doorway.
"Does that creature want you, Edward?" she asked in a haughty tone pointing at me.
He turned to see me standing in the doorway. I hesitated before turning away going out into the hall. He followed me.
"Jane? You need something?"
"Yes, sir. I need a leave of absence for a time. A week or two."
"To see someone who is sickening and may die soon. She has sent for me."
"Who is this person?"
"Mrs. Reed at Gateshead Hall."
"Mrs. Reed? Who is this person to you?"
"My aunt, Mr. Reed's widow."
"You have no relations, or so I was led to believe."
"Mrs. Reed cast me off sending me to Lowood at a young age."
"Why should she do that?"
"I do not know, sir. I believe she was jealous of the attention and love Mr. Reed had for me."
"Are these the same Reeds mentioned to me by Miss Ingram just yesterday? One of the daughters is a beauty and caused quite a stir in London last year."
"That would be Georgina Reed. She has a sister, and a brother, John Reed, recently died."
"John Reed? I heard of him. A rascal, isn't he?"
"The worse kind, sir. He is said to have killed himself due to a loss of monies. His death was so shocking to Mrs. Reed she fell into a fit of sorts and has not and will not recover."
"And you mean to go to this woman to what, comfort her on her death bed?"
"Perhaps, I do not know. All I know is that she called for me from her death bed and I must answer that call."
"How long will you be gone, Jane?"
"As long as I need to be. But I fear it may be a short time given the state Mrs. Reed is in."
"Promise me you will return to Thornfield and that you will only stay one week."
"I promise to return but I cannot promise to only be gone for one week."
"What if she recovers and wants you to live with her?"
"I doubt that will happen, sir."
"You cannot travel alone, who goes with you?"
"She has sent her coachman, Robert. He will travel with me back to Gateshead Hall."
"You need money to travel. Have I paid you a salary yet?"
He removed a pound note from his wallet and handed it to me. A fifty pound note?
"I have no change, sir. You owe me fifteen, not fifty."
"Perhaps you are right. If I give you fifty, you may not return. Let me have that back. Here is ten and I shall owe you five and you may return for it."
I pondered and took the ten pocketing it. "May I broach another subject, sir?"
"What is it, Jane?"
"I believe you are soon to be married, sir and I will need to seek another position."
"In good time, Jane." He stared at me. "Will you advertise again? Perhaps you will use some of that money to do that? Let me have it back and I'll give you five."
"I think not, sir. I do not trust you to give me five."
"Jane! How dare you say such to me?" He watched me for minutes until I squirmed under his gaze. "Promise me you will not advertise for another position until you return. I will help you in the manner."
"I will promise if you promise that Adele and I will be out of the mansion before you bring your bride here."
"That promise I will keep, Jane. Will you leave tomorrow?"
"Yes, early in the morning."
"Shall I say goodbye or what do people do in this circumstance?"
"They say goodbye or farewell."
"Say it to me, Jane."
"Farewell, sir. For the present."
"Farewell, Miss Jane Eyre, for the present. Although it seems too scant of a goodbye to me. Perhaps we should shake hands? But, no. That would not be enough either."
At that moment the dinner bell rang and he bolted off toward the dining room. I went to my room to commence packing. My emotions were all over the place. I was sad at leaving Thornfield, and, if truth be known, even sadder at leaving Mr. Rochester. I would miss his countenance, his rough manners, his sometimes brutal honesty. Chastising myself for my emotional state, brought on I believe by the prospect of seeing Aunt Reed again, I calmed down in order to pack my meager belongings.
RETURN TO GATESHEAD HALL
We left early in the morning and I did not see Mr. Rochester. We spent days traveling. At last we reached Gateshead Hall. Bessie greeted us at the door, giving Robert an embrace and a kiss on the cheek for me.
"Has Mrs. Reed asked for me again?"
"She spoke of you this very morning. She usually lies in a stupor until late afternoon and then has a rally of sorts about seven in the evening. If you wish to rest for a bit, I will take you up at seven."
"Thank you, Bessie."
She brought me tea and sandwiches to refresh me. I was much satisfied after that. Anon she brought me to the dining room where I was to see the Misses Reed again before going up the stairs.
At first glance I was not sure I would be welcome. But a glance at both tall ladies made me realize they had not changed much except to get taller. Georgina still had the peaches and cream complexion she was famous for, although she was stouter than she was as a child and her sister, Eliza still had the sallow look about her and a pursed mouth as if she was eating something sour, an expression I was familiar with since Aunt Reed wore the same expression every time she spoke to me. Neither one acknowledged me except to say hello. Not one word about their treatment of me as a child. Georgina did say that she thought I had grown into a handsome woman, although I was too thin and my short stature made me look too much like a child.
I expressed my condolences about their brother's death although I did not mention I had heard he had killed himself.
"You did not have any love for our brother in life so do not pretend you love him in death," Eliza said.
"I only wished to convey my condolences to you," I said. She ignored me and went back to her book.
"I cannot understand why Bessie brought you here. Our mother is at death's door. Seeing you will only upset her," Georgina said. She munched chocolates from a box never offering either her sister or me one.
"She asked to see me, I do not know what for," I said.
"If it is part of our inheritance you are after, it is of no use," Eliza said. "John spent it all and more. We only have this house and we will sell it once mother is gone to pay off our debts, including John's. There is nothing designated for you."
"I want for nothing," I said. Where was Bessie? Tolerating these two much longer would have me running for the next carriage back to Thornfield. At last she came in and I stood to greet her.
"I am sorry, Mrs. Reed has not rallied as I thought she should this evening. Perhaps tomorrow she will be able to see you. Let me show you to your room, Miss Eyre."
Following Bessie up the stairs I reminisced about the last time I was in this house. Mr. Brocklehurst had come to take me to Lowood. We passed the Red Room, the door still locked I presume. Averting my eyes I went into the bedroom at the end of the hall designated for guests.
I spent a restless night at Gateshead. I heard strange noises in the night. A scratching at the window caused me fear but when I investigated it was only a branch blowing in the wind.
The next morning Bessie brought me to Mrs. Reed, whom, she said, seemed more lucid than on previous mornings.
At first Mrs. Reed did not know me. She mumbled that I must be a hallucination, a mirage.
"No, it is I, Jane Eyre all grown up."
"I see you have the same eyes, is that you, Jane?"
"Yes, it is I."
"I wanted to see you before I died." She plucked at the covers. A bluish colour lined her mouth, her skin hung loosely from her jowls and she had the look of someone quite ill.
"You wanted to tell me something?" I prompted.
"Yes. No. Go away, Jane Eyre. I do not wish to see you today!" She began coughing and Bessie, who had been standing near the door rushed over to her holding a glass of water to her lips.
"Perhaps you should go, Jane. Maybe later on she will receive you."
Nodding, I left. I contented myself over the next several days with writing to Adele and Mrs. Fairfax about the wonders of Gateshead Hall. I perused the library once again as I had done as a child. There, on the top shelf was the book of birds John had hit me with. Touching the small scar on my forehead made me wince as if it had just happened. I took the book and went to the window seat, flipping the pages as I had done so very long ago. Marveling at the colourful birds and their plumage.
For more entertainment I brought out my sketchpad. Both Eliza and Georgina ignored me. Eliza read or wrote or sewed and Georgina spent the days primping her curls, trying on various gowns and chattering to her canaries of which she had several in cages hung in the drawing room. One evening I got out my broad pencil and began to draw scenes from my imagination, elves, seascapes, what took my fancy. I drew a fairly good likeness of Thornfield Hall. Drawing the house made me think of the master of the mansion. I sketched his likeness from memory. At first the drawing did not look like him. I started over three times before I had his square jaw and coarse features right. Those black eyes stared at me from the page on my lap and a wave of homesickness washed over me. I nearly gasped with sorrow as I put his likeness away. Soon after I returned I would have to leave my home, the only home I had ever known. Thornfield Hall. And the only man I had ever-dare I say it?-loved. No, that way laid madness. He was promised to another and I could not fathom he loved me, a mere servant in his household. No, he thought of me as nothing more than a toy to trifle with when his fancy was elsewhere.
Ten days passed before Bessie thought to bring me to Mrs. Reed again. The doctor had given her a sleeping draught and she slept most of the days. This day, she refused it saying she needed to speak to me, forthwith.
Again, Bessie brought me to her bedside. I sat in a chair waiting for Mrs. Reed to speak.
"You are Jane Eyre, are you not?"
"Where is John? Where is my son?"
Bessie came up to Mrs. Reed and shushed her. "You know he is in heaven, dear lady."
"Ah, yes. My lovely boy nearly took all we have to pay his gambling debts. Where shall we get more, Bessie? What will Eliza and Georgina do for dowry's? Georgina was out last season and had a prince after her hand!" She seemed excited but her eyes turned sad. "Once he found out about our debts, he withdrew his offer of marriage. Now she has no one."
"You wanted to speak to me, Mrs. Reed?" I prompted.
"Bring me that wooden chest on the dresser." I did as she asked. She opened it to reveal a packet of letters inside. "Read one of them."
I took one from the top and began to read aloud thinking her eyes were too weak to read.
"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Reed,
Please do me the honour of sending me the address of my niece, Jane Eyre. How is she? Is she well? I ask because I am a bachelor and I have no other living relatives. I wish to bequeath to her my fortune and therefore wish to adopt her and give her the life she deserves in my remaining years.
John Eyre, Esq.
The letter was dated three years ago. "I never heard of this relative!"
"No, I had one of the servants write and tell him you died at Lowood."
"Why would you do such a thing?"
"Because I hated you. Your passionate nature was anathema to me. It seemed as though my husband, Mr. Reed held you in higher esteem than his own children. You were like an animal that day you left for Lowood, I never forgot your poisonous words, they went straight to my heart, making me ill. To think I had raised such a horrid child! It cut me to the quick."
"Pity yourself no longer, Aunt. I was but a child, nine years have gone since then. I cannot justify my actions as a child but I can justify them now and I would not have said those words to you as I am now. Please forgive my passionate outburst."
"I cannot forget it or forgive it. That is why I told your uncle you had died. You would not live in the lap of luxury on my account. Now you may write to your uncle and tell him that you live, perhaps he will still be able to bequeath you something. I do not know." She fell back on her pillow, exhausted.
I patted her hand. "Do not grieve over this act, Aunt Reed. I will write to him forthwith and all will be forgiven."
She snatched her hand out from under mine. "I despise you still, Jane Eyre. I will never understand how you could be a compliant child for nine years and in the tenth spew forth the venom you gave me on that day. That is your true nature, Jane Eyre."
"I was but a child," I said. "Forgive me now as I have forgiven you and go to your maker in peace." I leaned over to kiss her cheek but she veered away demanding a drink of water from Bessie.
Poor sad, Aunt Reed. She did not have it in her nature to forgive me for a childish outburst or to love a child who only wanted to be loved in return. I left the room and retired to mine.
In the morning Bessie informed me that Aunt Reed had died in her sleep. I went to the room, there Eliza and Georgina stood over her still form.
"If not for her troubles, she would still be with us," Eliza said looking at me.
I made ready to return to Thornfield. I had forgotten about writing to my uncle in Maderia. After Aunt Reed's internment and the subsequent selling of Gateshead Hall I was ready to go. The only thing from Gateshead Hall I took was the book of birds. I thought Adele might find it as charming as I had when I was a child. Home to Thornfield Hall after nearly a month gone. I wondered if Mr. Rochester had finalized his wedding plans to Miss Ingram and when I would be leaving. Perhaps not until the spring. I held onto that hope as the coach made its way to Yorkshire in the north of England.
The journey was long and tedious. Fifty miles in one day, a night spent at an inn and then another fifty miles the following day. At first I thought of Mrs. Reed but then my thoughts drifted to Thornfield. How long would I be able to stay? Would I have time to enjoy being there before being uprooted again? Where would I go? In my mind I envisioned Miss Ingram standing at the gates of Thornfield Hall shaking her head at me as I attempted to enter.
Although the household did not know the exact date of my return, I hoped I would be greeted as an old friend. In truth I missed them all terribly. Funny little Adele with her broken English and French intermixed, Mrs. Fairfax's friendship, John's steadfastness, and, of course, Mr. Rochester. The only person I did not miss and dreaded to see was the person of Grace Poole. I hoped she had been dismissed in the month I had been gone.
The coach left me off at Millcote so that I could walk the rest of the way to Thornfield. John would pick up my trunk for me once he knew I had returned. I breathed in the air, so changed from whence I left. Then snow blanketed the ground and now the fields began to show some green shoots here and there. I mused on the wonders of nature as I walked, trying-and failing utterly-to quiet my excited mind. I am coming home!
I turned the corner and there by a tree sat Mr. Rochester, himself, writing in a small notebook. Was he a ghost? An apparition I conjured from my imagination so eager was I to lay eyes upon his countenance? He jumped down exclaiming my name when he saw me. Why should I tremble so at the sight of him?
"Jane! At last, hello. Come here, Jane. Are you traveling from Millcote on foot? This is just like you to come to me in twilight as a shadow like that first time, remember? I thought you a fairy child."
"I remember, sir." How my heart did flutter at seeing him again. Here and in person, no longer a vision in my memory but as flesh before me.
"Where have you been all this time, Jane?"
"With my Aunt Reed, as you know. She has died."
"Do you come from the other world then? Are you shadow or substance? You are an elf, Jane. Are you a blue light that flickers through the marsh to come to me so?"
"I am as real as you are, sir."
"Home at last, hey?"
"And do you know what I have been doing since you left me?"
"No, sir." Although I had an inkling.
"I have been making wedding plans. A new carriage has been ordered and you should see it. It will suit Mrs. Rochester very well indeed. Purple cushions to sit upon. She will be a queen and beautiful atop them. Is there a potion or charm to make me into a handsome prince, do you think?"
Now he was teasing me. I smiled. "That is beyond the power of magic, sir. But love needs no charm and sees you as handsome with power beyond beauty." Fearful I had said too much I stood still.
"Go home now, Jane. Rest your weary traveler's bones at the hearth of a friend. "
I meant to go but something made me turn around.
"I will go home, sir. For wherever you are is home to me."
I strode on leaving him behind me to ponder my words. If I had declared my heart to him, then so be it. He is to be married shortly and I will be gone from him. A catch in my throat threatened to choke me. Adele saw me and ran out to embrace me. Tears upon a homecoming are natural. Even Mrs. Fairfax seemed a little teary-eyed at my arrival. John was sent to fetch my trunk from Millcote and I was led inside to have tea with my loved ones. Mr. Rochester stayed out of doors and came in without speaking, going directly to his rooms.
After supper we retired to the library as was our wont before my departure. Mrs. Fairfax brought out her knitting, I gave Adele the bird book and she was perusing it at my feet, laying her head on my knee as if to reassure herself I was not going to leave her. Mr. Rochester came in, took in our little group and nodded. He took a seat by the fire and began to read. Thus we passed my first evening home. Home! My heart filled with pleasure as I helped Adele with the English words for the birds. When it was time for bed, she insisted she take the bird book to bed with her, tucking it under her pillow. She wound her arms around my neck and asked me in French to never leave her again. Kissing her cheeks I told her I would stay as long as it was necessary. Not a satisfying answer but it was the only one I was able to say.
A fortnight went by with no mention of the marriage or wedding plans. I thought it odd. I asked Mrs. Fairfax about it and she stated that nothing had been settled yet.
"There is much negotiation to be done among these rich families, properties to be given, dowries, more than you and I know."
"And Mr. Rochester goes to the Ingram's often to see his future bride?" I asked.
"Oh, no. He does not. It is all done with the business end of things. I do not think he is involved."
My hopes were high that he had broken off with Miss Ingram. Never a word of her did he mention. He was kinder to me than he had been before I left and it was this kindness that undid me. I fell deeply and inconsolably in love. Admonishing myself for my foolishness did no good. Only the sight of him striding across the field with Pilot by his side would awaken such emotions in me that I could not contain or stifle them. This was what it meant to be in love. Painful, cruel, passionate, joyful, sorrowful love. Longing spread throughout my limbs but I could do nothing, say nothing but endure the silence of Mr. Rochester's ever impending marriage as it weighed upon my soul. If this is what it was to be in love, I wanted no part of it. But I could not quit it, it had a strangle hold on me that would not let go. Each passing day brought more and more agony for me. Yet, in some aspects I was more content than I had ever been. The evenings in the parlour with Mrs. Fairfax, Adele and Mr. Rochester were like a soothing balm to my lovesick soul.
Summer came to Yorkshire at last. Heather bloomed across the moors and shades of purple dotted the hillsides. I relished walking in the fields admiring the flowers and plants. Adele and I often went on walks collecting flowers or interesting looking insects in jars to study as part of her schooling. I had been at Thornfield a year. A year of heartbreak and sorrow and a year of falling in love. I love this place and never want to leave. Yet leave I knew I must once Mr. Rochester declared his bride was coming to live at Thornfield.
A lazy day spent gathering wild strawberries soon tired Adele out. She lay down in the parlour and was soon asleep. I covered her with one of Mrs. Fairfax's knitted coverlets and went outside to sketch in the garden. The light seeped in through the overhead ivy that covered the archway making a pretty play on the ground. I sought a stone bench and sat trying to draw the shadows. Concentrating so hard on the drawing I became aware of a scent I knew as well as I knew the scent of the roses. Mr. Rochester's cigar. I packed up my things preparing to hurry back to the hall when he called to me.
"Jane? Come here and look at this." How did he see me when I was hidden in the shadows?
I stood next to him as he bent over a blue-winged dragonfly. "He reminds me of the ones in the West Indies he is so huge. Oh, look, there he goes, off to find his lady love, no doubt."
Once again it behooved me to retreat back to the house but he stopped me with a word. "Stay, Jane. Stay and entertain me for a time, will you?"
His eyes roamed the fields surrounding Thornfield. "This is a pleasant place, is it not, Jane?"
"Yes, it is, sir."
"Are you attached to the house for its beauty since you have the eye of an artist?"
"I am attached to it, sir."
"I understand you have also formed an attachment to the little minx of a girl, Adele and to Mrs. Fairfax as well?"
"I have, sir."
"And you will be sorry to leave this place and your friendships, I presume?"
"I will be sorry indeed."
"It is too bad that once you find a place of repose you must move on. This is the way of the world."
"Must I? Move on, sir?"
"Yes, you must, Jane. I am sorry that you have to move on, but I believe it is time."
I felt the tears behind my eyes but I willed them not to fall in his presence. "I will be ready when the time comes."
"The time is now, Jane."
"You are to be married, sir?"
"Yes, I am."
"As soon as I can be. And you, Miss Eyre must find another situation. Will you advertise again?"
"I suppose so."
"I hope to become a groom in about a month, Jane. But do not advertise, I will seek out a position for you among the families I know. Surely I will be able to find one that suits."
"None as well as Thornfield," I said.
"I have just the place, I know of a family of five children in need of a governess. They are moving to Ireland and wish to take their governess with them. You will be welcome in Ireland, they have such big hearts there."
"Ireland, sir? But that is far away."
"From what, Jane?"
"From England and Thornfield and from-"
"From you, sir," I said almost in a whisper.
"It is far away. Come let us sit and talk over old times. We have been good friends, have we not, Jane?"
"I believe we have, sir." We walked back to the stone bench in the garden. Mr. Rochester had put out the cigar so now all I could smell was the roses. Their heady scent made me dizzy.
"It is odd, this connection we have, Jane. I feel it here in my ribs as if a string is tied there that reaches to you. I fear if you go to Ireland it will snap and break and we shall be parted."
I told him I wish I had never come to Thornfield because my heart was breaking so. "I love Thornfield, it is the only home I have loved and been loved in. I see why I must leave but it does not make it any less painful."
"Why must you leave, Jane?"
"Why? You have said it to be so."
"How did I?"
"Sir, you are to marry Miss Ingram, she will be your bride and will have no brook with me here."
"I have no bride."
"You will, sir. You will."
"Yes, I will."
"Then I must go. Do you think I could stay knowing how I feel about you, this place? Am I a person with no feelings? Do you think that because I am inexperienced, poor and little I cannot love or that I have no heart? If you believe thus, you are wrong. My heart is full of love."
"For me?" he asked in a quiet voice. He gathered me in his arms and I wept with passion.
"Let me go," I said attempting to struggle.
"Be still, Jane."
"I will not be still, let me go."
"I offer you my hand, dear sweet Jane, my land, my possessions, all that I own and more."
"I am not a trifling and do not enjoy this farce."
"It is no farce, Jane. I want you to be my bride. You and only you."
"Do not mock me, sir. I cannot stand it."
"Your bride stands between us."
"Jane, will you marry me? You shall be mistress of Thornfield and have all riches it entails and more besides."
"You do not trust me?"
"You do not believe me?"
"No, I do not."
"Yet I speak from my own heart. I believe you entranced me the moment I saw you on the lane that first night. Each day I grew more and more fond of you. Do you believe me now?"
"I do not."
"The month you left was torture. I went around like a lost man, trying to find my anchor but she was gone. Now she is returned to me and I cannot stay silent any longer. Jane, my darling, I love you."
At that moment it began to rain. We ran through the garden to the house shaking off the water. He gathered me in his arms and kissed me soundly on the lips. Gasping with surprise, Mrs. Fairfax stood on the stairs staring at us. I pried myself from his arms and ran up the stairs past Mrs. Fairfax. I will explain in the morning.
BLOOD ON THE WALLS
In the morning I wondered, had it all been a dream? Did Mr. Rochester ask me to marry him or was it some cruel joke? Dressing in a hurry I hummed to myself some ditty I had heard. I gathered my hair at my neck and stared at my reflection. No longer did I look like the sad orphan girl, I looked like a woman in love. My cheeks glowed with health, my eyes sparkled and my skin shone from within. I was in love and it showed. Oh, do not let this moment pass from me! Keep it with me always.
I opened my door and was horrified to see Grace Poole standing there. I had not seen her in these many days and thought she was gone from Thornfield for good.
"What do you want?" I asked barely civil.
"Master wanted me to give you these dresses." She handed me a pile of fabric. I nodded my thanks shutting the door in her face. I laid the dresses on the bed. He must have commissioned her to sew them while I was at Gateshead Hall. I hung them in the wardrobe and went down stairs.
Adele was just coming up. "Adele? Where are you off to? Have you eaten?"
"Oui, Monsieur Rochester asked me to fetch you and then go away."
"Oh, Adele he did not mean that. You may go to the schoolroom and begin your mathematics. I will be up as soon as I have breakfasted."
As soon as I passed by the drawing room door, Mr. Rochester yanked it open. "Good morning, Jane. You look well."
He embraced me and kissed me lightly on the lips as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do so.
"Good morning, sir."
"Jane, dear Jane. You may call me Edward, for that is my name. And soon you shall be Jane Rochester, mistress of Thornfield Hall and the envy of all."
"Jane Rochester," I repeated.
"What is the matter, dear? Your cheeks were pink and now they are white. Are you ill?"
"No, it's the name you called me. Jane Rochester."
"Yes, no longer Jane Eyre, orphan girl but Jane Rochester, bride of Edward."
"Is this not a dream of sorts? If it is, I cannot wake up from it, nor do I want to."
"It is no dream. For this morning I implored my banker to send me the Thornfield jewels to adorn your lovely neck on our wedding day. Four weeks, dear, four weeks and no more."
"I do not wish for jewels. Jane Eyre does not covet jewels."
"Ah, but Jane Rochester must wear them. There is a diamond necklace and a gold circlet for your forehead. Bracelets and rings, all must adorn your person on our wedding day."
"I do not wish to be a plain brown bird done up in peacock's feathers."
"I will take you to Millcote this very day and Adele may come, too. We will buy you dresses fit for your new role here. The wedding is to take place in the chapel below the hill. Afterwards we will tour the countries you have only dreamed about, the vineyards of France, the fields of Italy. Rome, Naples, Paris, my love! You will see them for the first time and I will experience them again through your innocent, fresh eyes. Once more renewed will be old Rochester!"
"You are not old, sir."
"No need to call me sir any longer, Jane. We are equals now."
"Yes, Edward." The name tasted sweet on my tongue. A frown on my face made him start.
"Why do you scowl so, Jane? Have you changed your mind so soon?"
"No, but I wonder, why did you trick me into thinking you were about to marry Miss Ingram?"
"I confess, I wanted you to be jealous of her. I wanted to see you madly in love with me and be so enamoured of me as I was of you there would be no chance of you refusing me when the time came."
"You thought nothing of Miss Ingram's feelings?"
"I told her my riches were at an end and she left, throwing me off as one would a cloak. So you see, no feelings for me, only for my money."
"There are those that would question your love for a governess and call me names. They would say I was after your money."
"Are you, Jane?"
"If I were penniless, would you marry me still?"
He nodded as if that was the right answer. "Go now and tell Mrs. Fairfax the good news although I am sure she has guessed it already. Go my sweet and return to me anon." He kissed me again.
Mrs. Fairfax sat at the table finishing her tea. She glanced up as I came in.
"I was never so astonished, Jane! You and Mr. Rochester?"
"It is true," I said. I got my tea and toast sitting down to enjoy them. I spread butter on the toast and took a bite of it.
"He has asked you to marry him?"
"He has and I have accepted. The wedding is to be in four weeks. I almost cannot believe it myself."
"He is older than you by twenty years and in a different class."
"Age and class mean nothing to those in love," I answered.
She scowled at me and suddenly my eyes filled with tears. "I do not wish to alarm you, Jane but you know nothing of the ways of the world. Be on your guard. I fear all is not well."
"Why do you say such things to me? I thought we were friends."
"We are, that is why I warn you. Tread carefully, my dear."
"It is strange that a man of his position should marry a governess," she muttered to herself. The toast I had so eagerly eaten sat like a stone in my stomach. I prayed she was wrong but some nagging thought tugged at the edges of my mind.
It was not hard to get caught up in the wedding plans that day. Adele, Edward-how strange to say his name-and I went to Millcote for a wedding trousseau for me. At each shop he bought more and more until I was fatigued by the sight of so much. All for me! In the carriage on the way back to Thornfield with Adele sleeping next to me I remembered my Uncle John whom I had neglected to write.
I spoke of my uncle to Edward. "I shall have my own fortune someday and it will allow me to do as I will."
"And what is your will, Jane?"
"To continue to teach Adele and live as plainly as I have before."
"And what of me? Our marriage?"
"I wish you to have a regard for me, Edward. The same regard that I have for you. We shall live quiet lives at Thornfield and go on much the same except I will be your wife."
"I may like that life, Jane. I so long for peace, here." He touched his breast. "You will give me the peace I crave, Jane. I know this as I know my own name."
That evening after supper, I implored Edward to sing for me. I tried to play the pianoforte but I was no musician and he took it away from me, playing and singing. When the song was done I clapped and he bowed.
"Did you enjoy the song?"
"Oh, yes, you have a fine voice. Please regale me with another." And thus we passed the evening. At the end he walked me to my door, kissing me on the lips. I heard a movement on the stairs and a laugh.
"Grace Poole?" I whispered. Edward strode to the landing but nothing stirred so he quit it and came back to me.
"Lock your door, Jane."
"I shall and do. Goodnight, dear Edward."
THE CHAPEL IN THE VILLAGE
Mrs. Fairfax approved of the match. She told me so at various times during the days ahead. She saw a difference in both me and in Edward. He no longer frowned as much, he attended his duties with a light air, even bestowing affection on Adele which she lapped up like a small dog laps up spilled milk on the floor.
Edward ordered my wedding dress made by a dressmaker in Millcote. He did not trust Grace Poole to render so fine a garment as that to her hands. The dress was delivered and John brought it up to me. I hung it on the door staring at it as if it were an apparition to be frightened of. The gown itself was of the softest material, beaded with a small veil encircled with blue and purple Gillyflowers.
Even Adele got a new frock to wear although she would not be at the wedding itself but later on Adele would be present for a small gathering of Edward's business acquaintances, friends and Mrs. Fairfax to be held in the garden. Preparations had been going on for days. For once I was not part of it but stood watching on the outside.
I wrote to my uncle to tell him of my impending marriage to Mr. Edward Rochester of Thornfield Hall, Yorkshire. I did not receive a reply.
On the day in question I awoke early trying to shake off a dream. In it I remember standing with Edward next to me but in an instant he changed into a vampire with long tangled hair and a hideous distorted face! He tore the veil off my head and laid his cold lips against my neck sucking my life from me as I stood unable to move. I felt my life seep away while the vampire bled me dry. "It was only a dream," I said aloud. "It means nothing."
Still the dream troubled me. I spoke of it to Edward. He tried to explain it to me as we supped.
"You have said you are frightened of Grace Poole?"
"Yes, but the face of this monster was so hideous, it could not have been her."
"Did you lock your door last evening?"
"I think so."
"Here is what I believe happened. Grace entered your room and in your half-awake state you imagined her as a monster of sorts. You heard her laugh and it frightened you."
"I do not understand why she continues to live here."
"After we have been married for a time, perhaps a year, I will explain to you why I keep her on to live at Thornfield. But I cannot tell you now. Please accept my vague explanation of it for now."
Leah came in to help me dress. The carriage waited. I stepped into it and Edward, dressed in his best suit took my hand in his.
"Today is the day, my love."
The carriage drove us to the chapel. Edward got out first helping me alight. His step was light as was mine. I walked on air as I entered the quiet chapel. The priest waited for us to take our places at the altar. I stood with knees shaking and Edward stood facing me. He held my hands in his. As the priest began the ceremony a curious feeling came over me. It was as if my soul had left my body and resided on the ceiling looking down on our tableau. When the priest got to the part about impediments I barely heard what he was saying. Suddenly a shout came from the pews.
A man stood there waving his hand in the air. Wait, I knew the man. This was Mr. Richard Mason from Spanish Town, Jamaica. What was he saying? I looked at Edward who grew pale before me.
"Keep going," he said to the priest but the priest hesitated.
"Stop this wedding," cried Mr. Mason. "It is a blasphemy in the eyes of God."
"What do you mean, sir?" asked the priest. Edward clutched my hands so tightly they hurt from the pressure.
"This marriage cannot go on."
"Because Mr. Edward Rochester of Thornfield Hall, is already married."
"To Bertha Antonia Mason Rochester of Spanish Town, Jamaica. She was married to Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester at said town on October 20th fifteen years prior to this one."
At that utterance Edward dropped my hands. His shoulders drooped in defeat.
"And do you have proof of this marriage?" asked the priest.
"I do, my name is Briggs and I represent the interests of one Richard Mason, said brother of Bertha."
"Can you produce this brother?"
"I can. Richard, please come forward." A man who had been lurking at the back of the chapel now walked as far as the pew where his solicitor stood. Edward made a sound like that of a wounded animal.
"You have seen this so-called wife of Mr. Rochester's?" the priest asked.
"I have three months prior."
"And she was living?"asked the priest.
"Yes. She resides at Thornfield Hall."
"If you can call it living," Edward said.
"I know all the residents of this area and there is no Mrs. Rochester at Thornfield Hall," the priest stated.
"No, by God, I kept her a secret. Not by choice, mind you. By necessity." Edward did not look at me but continued to look at Mr. Mason. "I have no doubt you have not heard of her. Yet, there she lives. Although living is not the word for it. Have you spoken to the girls of the village who come to Thornfield and leave less than human? Then you know of what I speak. Yes, it's true. I married Bertha because she was everything I was not. Flamboyant, reckless, wild, passionate. Soon after we were married we fell in with a rough crowd. I passed out from drink and so did she. When I awoke she was lying next to me, dead."
"But she is not dead," said her brother. "She is alive."
"No, she does not appear to be dead. But she was. I thought to bury her but I could not relinquish my hold on her. I drank some more sleeping next to her dead body wishing she had not died. On the third day she arose, renewed. I thought a miracle had occurred but she was no miracle, she was a vampire."
"A vampire?" I breathed.
"Yes," Edward turned stricken eyes on me. "She tried to bite me but I rebuffed her. I am not proud of what I did but I brought her young boys to drink from until her thirst was requited." He sighed. "Pretending all was well between us, I brought her here to England and set her up on the third floor. Soon maids began disappearing, or became so enthralled they could not function. But I paid them well to provide what I could not to my wife. Their life blood."
"This is a fabrication," said the priest. "There are no such things as vampires."
"Come with me and see for yourselves, oh, you, too, Jane, my dearest."
Almost in a daze I followed in the carriage back to Thornfield. The servants, Adele and Mrs. Fairfax stood in a line waiting to throw flower petals on us. As we strode past them they shouted out congratulations but none of us acknowledged them. Edward made his way to the third floor unlocking the door with a key. Grace Poole sat inside on a chair. She rose at the sight of us. We made an odd bunch, me in my wedding dress, Edward in his suit, the priest in his robes, the solicitor in his robes and Richard Mason in a suit.
"It is all right, Grace. How does she today?"
"Better, sir. She slept some but as it is getting toward evening she hungers. Be careful."
"I have a priest with me, it will be fine."
He used a key that was around his neck opening the door and entering. Coming back out he motioned for us to follow him inside. "Stay by the door," he commanded. We filed in. At first it was hard to see, the window was covered with a black cloth. He lit a candle and the figure on the bed hissed at the light. There on the bed lay a woman, striking me as the same woman I saw in a dream. The same woman who entered my uncle's bedchamber when I was a child. Long dark disheveled hair, dark eyes that seemed to bore into me, wearing a gown of scarlet. She lunged at me flying off the bed in a flash.
"Priest, your cross now!" Edward shouted. The priest banished his cross and she hissed again backing away into a corner of the room staring at us.
"What do you want?" she asked in broken English.
"Bertha? It is me, your brother, Richard." Mr. Mason took a step toward her but Edward stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"Do not go any further, Mason. She will not stop this time."
"So, Jane and gentlemen, this is my wife, Bertha Rochester, a vampire. I lock her in because otherwise she preys on the villagers. I bring her animals to feast upon but she prefers her blood to be warm and flowing."
Bertha hissed at us baring her fangs. The priest held the cross toward her and she backed away again.
"Go out, now before she attacks you." We piled out of the room and Edward locked it behind him. I heard a thump and the door shook. Edward turned to Grace. "Give her the pig recently butchered, it will appease her for a time."
As we left Edward put a hand on my arm to stop me. "You are not to blame for this charade, Jane. It is on my head. When Mason returns to Madeira he may tell your uncle of your fate. Perhaps he will send for you and you might be rid of me and this horror forever."
Mr. Briggs listened to our conversation. He broke in. "Your uncle bade me to come to England to stop this so-called wedding. He is on his sick bed at present and may not get up again. It will ease his mind to know I was in time to save you. If I did not think he would be gone by the time we returned I would ask you to accompany me to Madeira. If you would be so good to make sure I have your correct address, I will ask you to remain in England until I have settled your uncle's estate."
I went straight to my room tearing off the dress as I ran. What was I to do? How could Edward be married to that monster? I put on my gray gown. The ones Edward-I suppose I must call him Mr. Rochester again-gave me I did not bother with. Sitting on the edge of my bed I pondered my fate. I was not to be a bride after all, but a solitary orphan girl again. Without prospects, without hope. I examined my wishes the ones I held in my heart yesterday, even this morning. A wish to be loved. The dark waters of despair washed over me nearly drowning me.
Sometime in the night I heard the door open. Forgetting to lock it, I watched with terror as Bertha crept in going over to my wedding dress, hanging again on the wardrobe. She rendered it with her teeth until it hung in tatters. She turned her gaze on me and I froze. The vampire stare. I had heard of it, who has not? Powerless to move from that look I endured her form creeping to my side.
"Pretty girl," she crooned bending over me. She turned my head to the side with her hand and bit down hard on my neck drawing blood. Enthralled I could not move or cry out but endured her bending down over me again and again until I was faint. The room swirled and I fainted from the loss of blood.
I awoke several hours later feeling pain in my neck. Holding my hand there I attempted to sit up. As soon as the dizziness passed I made my way to the door and locked it. I drank from the pitcher on the dresser. Would I, too become a monster? Somehow I knew I would not but I was under the vampire's thrall and would not be safe here. Rummaging in a small box I brought forth a small gold cross given to each girl at Lowood. This I placed around my neck after I bathed it free from dried blood. The pain was lessening but a kind of fever possessed me. I packed in a hurry eager to leave Thornfield forever. My thoughts drifted to Adele, hoping she would be sent to school as Edward-no Mr. Rochester-promised. Only then would she be safe.
But before I could leave Edward came into my room. Taking one look at me he lifted me into his arms and carried me downstairs to the parlour where he fed me broth until I rallied.
"Did you lock the door last night?"
"I did not."
"And did Bertha come into your room?"
"She did, she bit me, here." I indicated my neck. "Will I become a vampire?"
"No. She did not drain you dry and you did not drink from her." He paused. "I am sorry for this, Jane. I never wanted you to suffer so." He bent down as if to kiss my lips and I turned my face away. "I am not to kiss my almost bride?"
"No, sir. You have no claim on me."
"You believe it to be so? But, Jane my feelings have not altered toward you in spite of the secrets now revealed."
"All has changed, sir. Adele must have a new governess and I must leave Thornfield."
"Adele will go to school as planned. I know now I was mistaken to bring you to Thornfield Hall knowing of its haunted specter. I will board up Thornfield, I will lay a cross at each window and pay Grace Poole to bring whole cows to Bertha. We shall go away, Jane. To Paris or to wherever you wish. You will be my wife in my eyes and in the eyes of those in the village who will know us."
"You know I cannot do that, sir."
"You love me still, Jane. I know you do."
"I cannot deny it, sir. But I cannot go with you. You know in your heart I cannot."
"Your little face has such a resolute look about it. Jane!"
"I do love you, Edward but this is the last time I will indulge in these feelings or declare them to you."
"You think you can live here at Thornfield and see me each day and still be so cold and distant?"
"I am leaving Thornfield."
"No, you are not."
"I must begin again with new people who do not know of my troubles. I must leave little Adele and Mrs. Fairfax and, more importantly, you." My voice shook on this last note and tears began to stream down my face.
"You are my wife, Jane. I have no other. Come with me and be my wife."
"Your wife is living on the third floor, sir. If I go with you I could not be your wife, but your mistress."
"She is not my wife, only in name."
"Name is what matters in our society. To be otherwise I would be shunned and so would any children from such a union."
"Bah on society, we will live among ourselves and be a world onto ourselves. We need no other."
"You say that now but in time you would miss horses, riding, cigars and gentleman. And what about me? I should miss the company of others as I have grown used to it and cannot go back to a solitary life."
"I did not mean to deceive you, Jane. I thought it would never happen to me. That I should find someone so precious to me, to my life. I ask that you accept me as I accept you and love me as I love you. Can you accept me and this burden I bear?"
"Tell me more about Bertha."
"What do you wish to know? She was turned into a vampire and has lived as one these many years. I fed her as I fed Adele, I cared for her in my way but make no mistake, I did not and do not love that monster." He ran a hand through his hair. "I read about how to kill vampires. I thought it would be so easy. Lead her to the sunlight, toss holy water on her, put a stake through her heart. But, try as I might, I could not bring myself to kill her. Even knowing she is a monster stops my hand from doing the deed." He sighed. "But oh how I wish I could! Jane, how I wish it."
"I pity you, sir."
"I do not want your pity, I want your love."
"You have my heart, sir."
"I want more, Jane."
"You cannot, sir. I am sorry."
"You mean to leave me? To make your way in the world without me and I without you?"
"I shall live an accursed life without my fairy girl. I will die a broken hearted man with blackness in my soul. Is that what you wish for me, Jane?"
"No, sir. I wish for you to live a peaceful, tranquil life and die when it is your time with nary a blackness upon your soul."
"I cannot persuade you, can I?"
"No, sir, you cannot." And with a painful sound he left the room.
I would only have to call out to him, it is not too late! But my lips were steeled against my words. I could not live a half life, forever shunned and against the laws of God and man who has sanctioned those laws.
With a weary heart I took myself to my room to examine this world I have found myself thrust into. A world where vampires and demons exist. If such creatures live among us, then where are the angels and doers of good to protect us? Or was this God's way to punish us?
I did not relish the thought of leaving Adele to the monster that lived in the third floor but she has survived this long, perhaps she will continue to protected against the vampire's stare. I wondered if Mrs. Fairfax knew about Bertha. I believed she did not. For surely if she did she would not have stayed at Thornfield. I thought about Helen's angel and knew now, without a doubt she had been visited by a vampire over the course of her stay at Lowood. How many other girls died of a vampire bite and not of a fever or consumption as we thought? Edward's fears about killing Bertha entered my mind. Perhaps I could do what he could not. No. He would never forgive me despite his reluctance to stay married to Bertha, he would not cotton to my killing her. As these thoughts played around in my head I heard Bertha's laughter at my door. Shuddering as she tried the doorknob I sighed with relief as I heard her move on down the hall once she found it locked against her.
I knew without a doubt that Edward would send for me in the morning and my resolve would weaken. I could feel the bond of it slackening even now. In my gray gown with my traveling cloak on including the broach Miss Temple had given me pinned to my breast, I made my way back down the stairs to the kitchen. Silently I set about taking bread and water and summer apples in a small bag. I had no plan other than to walk to Millcote. Perhaps there someone would hire me out, as a maid or some other such. I let myself out. Even Pilot did not stir. The moon shone in its brightness lighting my way, I took this to be a sign that I was doing the right thing. The lane to Millcote was not long but I soon wearied. At one point the path veered off toward town and this was the path I followed. As the sun came up it found me exhausted and more importantly, lost. In the darkness I had taken the wrong path and now found myself on the moors away from Millcote. The spot where Bertha had bitten me throbbed with an intensity the further from Thornfield I got. Soon, the hot sun overhead made me shed my cloak and for a time, I carried it. I hoped to catch a coach on the road but the road was not in sight.
At some point I dropped my cloak, not knowing I had done so. The bread and water soon gone along with the apples. Still I trudged on. I came to a small village. A bakery stood open and I wandered inside weak with hunger.
"You want something?" asked the proprietor. He eyed me as if I were a beggar, and I guess I was.
"I hunger, sir. Do you have a bit of stale bread to give me? I will work for it. I am a hard worker."
"Get out of here," he said. He waved a hand at me but a woman who came in behind me admonished him.
"Give the girl something to eat, can you not see she is faint with hunger? Let her sweep up for a bit of sup."
The man grumbled but did as the lady asked. As soon as I was done sweeping and had devoured the bread and honey I looked at the man who stared at me the entire time I ate.
"Do you have a job for me?" I asked.
"No. There are no jobs here, be gone with the likes of you." He took the broom from my hands and made a sweeping gesture at me as if to sweep me out of his shop. I went. To my dismay the day had turned cloudy and now a fine mist fell. Where was my cloak? Abandoned by me somewhere along the trail. I did not fathom going back for it. I passed one gentleman and asked if the road I was presently on was the road to Millcote.
"No, you missed it. This is the road to Whitcross. A coach will be along shortly."
A coach! I sank down on the ground waiting for the coach to appear. It stopped for me and I handed the driver a coin. The last of the monies given to me as my wages by Edward.
I slept on the coach and presently was woken by the stopping.
"Whitcross," said the driver. I got out and the coach drove away. But this was no village! Nothing but stone pillars in the road to mark the spot. And now the rain was relentless, coming down in sheets half drowning me. Walking as far as I could, a large, flat boulder beckoned to me. I lay down upon it bemoaning my current state of affairs. Wet and bedraggled I stayed on that
boulder until the next morning when the sun dried the land once again.
My shoes made a soggy sound as I walked as they were not quite dried. Soon the sun gave way to gray clouds again and rain came down, pelting me. I spied a farmhouse and walked up to it. A man sat on a stool under an eave slicing bread.
"Sir? May I have a bit of bread?"
He stared at me before cutting off a slice, tossing it to me. I caught it mid-air stuffing it in my mouth in my eagerness to eat it. Moving on, wet, still hungry and feverish I came to another house, this one looked inviting with a bright fire flickering through the window. I knocked. An old woman came to the door.
"Is your mistress at home?" I inquired.
"Both of them are, who are you and what do you want?"
"Please, I am cold and wet and have not eaten much in days. Might you spare me a bit of something?"
"No. Go away from here, beggar woman."
She was about to shut the door but I swayed in place. She eyed me. "Please, I am no beggar but my current circumstances are such that I am in need of shelter, please?" I sank to my knees unable to stand any longer.
"Let the woman in," said a voice behind me.
"Mr. Rivers? Is that you?"
"It is indeed, Hannah. Let this poor woman inside, it is raining hard out here. We will see what is what and in any case she cannot go anywhere in this weather."
"Very well," Hannah said opening the door.
The man helped me up and into the house. Two young women came running over to me, helping me into a chair near the fire.
"Why she is soaked through, St. John! And so pale," said one of the woman.
"Her bones stick out, she is so thin," said the other one. I knew no more of their conversation for I fainted where I sat.
I awoke in a bedroom, reposing in a bed of the softest down. A nightdress covered me.
"Ah, you are awake," said one of the women. "I am Diana Rivers, my sister is Mary and my brother, is St. John."
"I am Jane Elliot," I said trying to sit up. I thought it best to keep my identity secret for now in case Edward searched for me.
Diana rushed over to me to help, propping several pillows behind me.
"Can you take a little broth or honey and milk?"
"Yes, to both."
She brought me over a tray and I soon finished the broth and the milk eager for more.
A knock at the door made me look up. Mr. Rivers stood there with his sister peering over his shoulder at me.
"Do come in," Diana said. "She is awake and hungry."
"You had best take it slow for a while," Mr. Rivers said. "How long were you wandering?"
"Two or three days, I cannot recall exactly."
"Well, you may rest here under the tutelage of my dear sisters until you are well enough to join your friends or family."
"I have neither," I said.
"Am I to believe that a lady such as yourself is an orphan with no means?"
"I am an orphan but I had means, I was a governess of late. But circumstances forced me to leave that position in a hurry. I had a small bag but left on the coach by mistake." I spotted my gray dress hung on a wardrobe, brushed clean of the mud and dried. It looked none the worse for wear.
Diana saw where I was looking. "Your shoes are brushed, too. You are welcome to stay here as long as you wish, Miss Elliot. Now I will go and tell Hannah you might like a bit of soup and bread."
As soon as they left I got up and resting every few minutes, managed to get dressed. I made my way down the stairs to the kitchen.
Hannah was surprised to see me. "I was fixing a tray for you," she grumbled.
"I am well enough to come down the stairs. Thank you." She set a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread before me. I soon polished it off feeling better than I had in days. Now that some of my strength had returned I wanted something to do. Hannah cleared away my dishes and got out a container filled with gooseberries.
"What do you mean to do with those?" I asked.
"Make them into pies."
"Give them here and I will pick out the good ones for you."
More than happy to have someone helping her she did as I asked. She gave me a towel to cover my lap in case any stray berries fell.
"Tell me about this house and these people," I said. "You have been with them for a time?"
"Since St. John was a baby. I raised them all. Their papa is gone these three weeks past. Sad business that."
"And all three of them live here?"
"No, St. John is a pastor in Morton, a few miles off. He is only visiting."
"Diana and Mary are his sisters?"
"Yes." She began to make the covering for the pies. I finished with the berries just as the Misses Rivers and their brother came into the kitchen.
"This will not do, guests sit in the parlour," Mary said hurrying to help me up.
"Leave her be," Diana said. "She is still very pale and weak."
"Come and sit by the fire, Miss Elliot. It will warm you," said Mr. Rivers. I allowed them to help me into the parlour. The two women chattered away but Mr. Rivers kept silent, watching me.
"I do not wish to cause you any more grief but my sisters and my charity cannot last forever," he began.
"St. John! She is still quite ill, leave her alone," Diana said shaking her head at her brother.
"No, it is fine. I do not want nor do I desire charity. I was and will be again willing to work at any honest labour if any will have me."
"I will do my best to secure you a position," Mr. Rivers said. Hannah brought in tea and we drank in silence.
A sort of dark despair lay over me as I thought about what I left behind. I could see no future for me at present. I sought to keep my counsel to myself not wanting to burden these folk.
"Can you tell us a little of your circumstances?" asked Mary.
"No, I am sorry, I cannot. I am not to blame for it but in order to not implicate others who would be hurt and feel betrayed, I cannot say more. Some of the tale is too incredible to believe."
"Now I am intrigued," Diana said with a smile. "But we will respect your wishes."
Soon days had passed and I was able to walk among the grounds a little. Each day some of my strength returned. The wound on my neck healed over with scarcely a scar. It throbbed now and then as if it were reopened but otherwise did not bother me.
The dark cloak of despair still settled around my shoulders. I read and discussed books with the Misses Rivers in the evenings. I sketched with the aid of their drawing utensils and paper. In this regard I was of greater talent and soon they asked for portraits. I began to sketch and draw the landscape around Marsh End, for that was the name of the house. Soon it became apparent that others in the village wanted their portraits drawn, too. I was paid a little, sometimes in food or clothing and once with a chicken. But once the villagers tired of these I would have no other means of support.
I grew quite fond of Diana and Mary. St. John was not there as often, he went to his own parish to attend to his parishioners. But when he did join us, his sisters welcomed him as if he had been gone for years. He continued to scrutinize me whenever he was at Marsh End. A practice I found unnerving.
A month after I came to them, the Misses Rivers informed me they were to become governesses with two wealthy families in London and would soon be leaving Marsh End. Saddened by this news I entreated Mr. Rivers to renew his efforts to find me a position.
"Ah, but I have such a position. I was waiting until the right time to speak of it to you. Now that my sisters are leaving in three days, and I am closing up Marsh End, it is time."
"Pray go on."
"It is a humble position, Miss Elliot. A year ago I opened a school for the poor boys in the village. Now I wish to open a school for the poor girls who are uneducated. Miss Oliver, the daughter of Mr. Oliver, has agreed to furnish such a school, they are very rich you see but she does not wish to be a school mistress. The school is furnished and there is a small area in the back where the school mistress might live. I propose you will be the mistress of the school." Before I could answer he went on. "Be aware that this position only pays thirty pounds a year and you will be in charge of it. You must teach the girls that come there as day boarders only, your evenings will be your own to do what you will. Now, do you accept?"
I thought about it. Fond of teaching and of running a school quite unlike that of Lowood I nodded.
"I accept the position, Mr. Rivers. When should the school be opened?"
"Next week is soon enough. I will let Miss Oliver know she has a school mistress at last." He went off. His face changed when he spoke of Miss Oliver, a softening of his features. He is in love with her, I thought.
OPENING THE SCHOOL FOR GIRLS
Diana and Mary with much tearful renderings and hand wringing despaired of ever returning to Marsh End.
"I will miss you," I said. "But on holidays if you can come back, I will gladly take you in as you so willingly took me in."
"You are very kind, Jane," said Diana. She was the more robust of the two always flitting about. Mary, was the quiet, shy sister content to sit and read by the fire. "I do not relish meeting strangers and seeing strange houses."
"I do not want to go," Mary said.
"But we have no choice," Diana said. "Now that father is gone and St. John will soon go."
"Go?" I asked.
"Yes, he plans on making a pilgrimage to India to teach the heathens there about Christ. He has been talking about it for years. Finally, now that father is gone, he is free to seek his passion in India as a missionary."
At that moment the man in question walked in carrying a letter in his hand. "Diana, Mary, I have news. Uncle John has died. Read this." He handed her the letter and when she was done passed it to Mary to read.
"It is not the fortune we hoped for," Diana said. "But at least we have something." She saw me watching her and shook her head. "Do not think us hard-hearted or cruel, Jane. We never knew our uncle. He was my mother's brother. My father and Uncle John quarreled over a business transaction and parted ways. My father always hoped he would leave us something to atone for the business mistake. He had no other relations except for another one we do not know. In any case, his fortune is now twenty-thousand pounds and except for thirty guineas, he has left his entire fortune to that other person."
"I am sorry," I said.
"It is no use to bemoan about it, we had hoped and now that hope is dashed. Come Mary, we still have packing to do."
In three days time, Diana and Mary left on the coach for London. Mr. Rivers closed up Marsh End and I moved into the small rooms at the school. Miss Oliver waited for me. She was a lovely girl with soft blonde ringlets and large blue eyes sparkling with intelligence.
"Miss Elliot? At last, Mr. Rivers speaks so highly of you. I understand you were at boarding school for nearly ten years?"
"Well, that is enough to teach these poor girls, is it not?"
Mr. Rivers came up behind us as we stood in the doorway. "Knitting, come simple ciphering, sewing, reading, writing, is all these girls need. You will not be using all your education, it seems."
"It will keep until it is needed," I said looking around. The schoolroom was large enough for twenty pupils with a wide wooden table and benches alongside of it set in the middle of the room. In truth it appeared to be more like a large kitchen of a house than a schoolroom. A fire burned merrily in the grate, a sink with various cooking utensils hung over it. A wood stove with plenty of firewood was stacked in the corner. A large rug covered the stone floor. The apartment in back housed a small table with four wooden chairs, a small cupboard filled with plates, cups, saucers and tea things. A small fireplace adorned one wall. Along the other wall was the bed, covered in a quilt, a small chest of drawers and a chamber pot that fit under the bed. I nodded my satisfaction at the furnishings. I would be cozy and warm here. I set my sketch pad and pencils, given to me by the Misses Rivers as a welcoming gift on the table.
I gave a smile to Miss Oliver. "It is lovely, thank you. I know I should be at ease here."
She turned a beauteous smile on Mr. Rivers who seemed stunned by being on the receiving end of such joy. "Well, then it is settled. Your first pupils will be arriving in the morning. I have arranged for the students to have a small breakfast, luncheon and tea. If there is anything you require, please do not hesitate to ask. I will, of course, be ordering supplies once a week and will go over the books with you at that time."
She weaved an arm through Mr. Rivers and the two of them walked out, heads together. I would not be surprised if a wedding was in the works for them. My thoughts drifted to my own wedding and tears sprang to my eyes. Wiping them away with a hasty hand I got up to lay out the books and papers the students would need in the morning. I hoped that Miss Oliver had ordered a map of England for I longed to teach the girls about geography. I made myself tea, happy to note that cakes and small sandwiches awaited me in the tea cupboard. Looking around I felt that if I could not be happy here, at least I could be content.
At first only two girls showed up. But as word spread, especially of the fine repose Miss Oliver sent to the school each luncheon, more girls came. By the end of the first week I had ten girls.
On Saturday afternoon Miss Oliver and I sat going over the list for supplies needed over the next few weeks.
"You are very frugal, Miss Elliot," Miss Oliver commented.
"I will try and not spend too much, but I will not scrimp on food for the girls. And although they have not much need for it, I wish to teach them French, Drawing and Geography."
"Very well, I see you will do our poor village proud. I will order the things you need."
"And some extra clothes, some of the girls come in rags with barefeet. That is fine for now but soon frost will be upon the ground and I do not want the girls to become sickly."
"Ah, then boots, cloaks, muffs, other necessities as I can find." She made a note. "Mr. Rivers was lucky to find you, Miss Elliot."
"I am the lucky one," I said. "His sisters and he took me in when I had nowhere to go. I am grateful for their kindness."
"St. John speaks highly of you," she coloured prettily. "I mean, Mr. Rivers." Ah, I thought, she is in love with him as well. Thinking of their happiness made me realize that I had none nor was I likely to in the future.
"What is the matter, Miss Elliot? You look sad and forlorn just now."
"It is nothing. A memory of a happier time."
"Perhaps you shall be happy again, in time."
"I aspire to be so," I said. But, did I aspire to be happy? A small part of me did, perhaps but as for the rest, no. I neither sought nor deserved happiness. A fleeting moment of joy was all I could hold, like one holds a small bird in their hand and then lets it go to fly off into the sky, forever lost.
Winter came and with it the snow and cold winds. Our school stayed warm and dry in spite of the weather that raged outside. I now had the twenty pupils allocated for enrollment so the school was full with other girls waiting to come in as soon as openings presented. Their ages ranged from six to seventeen. The older girls helped with the younger girls. One of the girls was especially helpful and I promoted her to be my assistant. I thought she might make a good teacher someday if that was her desire or perhaps as a governess.
I asked Miss Oliver for a pianoforte and even though I played very little I thought I could teach the girls some rudimentary songs. She obliged and on a snowy morning, had Mr. Rivers and several of the older boys from the boys' school bring it in. It was not new, but was bequeathed to the parish who had no need for it. It had sat unused for months before it was put to use by us.
I thanked both Miss Oliver, her father, and Mr. Rivers wholeheartedly. The girls were anxious to learn to play and I was eager to teach them. Anne, my assistant teacher came up with having an evening of music to benefit the school with the more talented girls playing the pianoforte, singing and reciting. We sought to do tableaus, which were in fashion and readings in Latin and French. A generous undertaking no doubt but the girls were content to sew costumes, learn French and Latin, learn new songs and sing like the canaries they were. Beaming I watched them work together, happy and content in their lot as I never could be.
On a snowy evening in March, after school was done and a hasty supper eaten that Miss Oliver provided. The girls put on their show for mothers, fathers. brothers and sisters, Miss Oliver, her father and Mr. Rivers. All crowded into the school room to watch with fascination as the girls sang, recited, played the pianoforte and formed tableau after tableleau. At the end of it all the girls bowed and the onlookers applauded, smiles beamed on the faces and I was aware, for the first time in as many months that happiness could light a spark within me.
As I cleaned up, Miss Oliver sought to help me, along with Anne and several of the girls. A sort of contentment washed over me and I hummed a tune under my breath as I worked.
"You are content here, Miss Elliot?" asked Miss Oliver.
"I believe I am and please call me Jane."
"Then I am Rosamond," she said. "The village wishes to thank you for your kindness to the girls and for believing in what they could accomplish. This night was wonderful!"
"Thank you, I will convey your kind words to the girls. I am sure they will appreciate it."
"Will you stay here long, Jane? Or shall you return to your home?"
"This is my home now," I said. She nodded blowing out the last candle before leaving with the rest of the girls.
I laid down on my bed. Presently I heard a scratching at the window. I must've been dozing for I awoke with a start. Listening I heard the scratch again. My neck began to throb and I knew without looking that there was a vampire at the window.
"Let me in," hissed a voice I could identify in my sleep.
Bertha. Here? All the way from Thornfield? I longed to let her in, to ask of Edward, Adele and Mrs. Fairfax but I knew I could not.
I threw open the curtains and there she was in all her vampiric glory staring at me through the glass. She looked much the same, as I suppose all vampires do, never aging as humans do. She pasted a sickly smile on her face.
"Why do you torment me?" I wailed. "Go away, you are not welcome here."
"Let me in," she hissed again fixing me with her stare. I felt the enthrallment begin to take hold. Reaching for the glass I meant to unlock it but something made me hesitate.
"No!" I screamed. "No, you may not enter!" I drew the curtains closed and waited. Presently I heard her leave. Making sure I peeked through the curtains and sure enough, the darkness was once again complete.
I stayed awake as much as I could, I was loathe to fall asleep sure that Bertha would find her way inside. As the morning sun flitted across the bedroom floor I was finally able to get up, put the tea kettle on and get dressed. Today was Sunday, school was not in session so I might sleep more later on. Had I been dreaming? Was Bertha here or was it a nightmare I could not wake from?
A knock at my door startled me. I expected no one. Peering out I saw Miss Oliver standing there in her cloak. Surprised, I let her in.
"Good morning, Rosamond. Would you like some tea?"
She shook her head. "No, thank you. I have come to bring you some bad news I am afraid."
"Oh? Come in and take off your cloak."
"I can only stay a minute. My father is waiting to go to church. I wanted to let you know that one of the girls died in the night."
My hand went to my throat. "One of the girls? Which one? What happened?"
"Little Sophie. As near as we can figure, she left her bedroom window in and an animal of some kind came through in the night, tearing her throat to shreds." She shuddered. "Her mother found her dead this very day. Poor Sophie."
Sophie was one of the younger pupils, she was not blessed with intelligence but she had a sweet nature and many of the older girls protected and petted her, helping her with her letters and sums.
I knew in an instant that it was the work of Bertha. Sitting down at the table I buried my face in my hands. How could I have prevented the death of Sophie? It should have been me, not her. Without thinking I said the last sentence aloud.
"Oh, no, Jane. Do not think so! You did nothing wrong, it was no one's fault, it was Sophie's time to go."
"Thank you for telling me, Rosamond. I will come around to give her parents my condolences."
"They will appreciate it. We cannot bury her until the ground thaws, sometime in the spring I expect. Mr. Rivers will lead a service for Sophie tomorrow. School, of course, will be closed for the week."
Sophie's parents were grief-stricken and seemed to be in a daze as they took in the sympathetic wishes of the villagers. I held onto her mother's hand for a long while trying to infuse some of my strength into her. She nodded at me before sitting back down.
Mr. Rivers did justice to the little girl and her sweet nature. The ladies cried and some of the men, too, I believe. My handkerchief was soaked through with my tears.
Afterwards we filed out. Mr. Rivers stood off to one side he indicated I should come over to him. I did so.
"Are you holding up, Miss Elliot? I know that Sophie was one of your favourites."
"I am doing all right, Mr. Rivers. I am sad, of course and I will miss her sweetness."
"I hope this does not put you off of our little village?"
"No, why should it? Accidents happen wherever one goes."
"The surgeon believes it was a wild animal like a wolf that killed her."
"Were there footprints found near her window?"
"No, but it snowed later on that night. He did see blood dripped onto the windowsill and going outward for a time until the snow obliterated it."
"I will miss her," I said again.
Although the school was officially closed for the week. The next day a few of the girls came anyway. By the end of the week, all had shown up with the exception of Sophie, of course.
On Monday Miss Oliver brought in another pupil who had been waiting to come to school as soon as an opening occurred. She brought the girl inside.
"Miss Elliot, this is Sarah. Sarah, meet Miss Elliot."
Sarah looked to be ten years old. She smiled at me and I smiled back. I bent down to be at her level. "Where are you from Sarah?"
"She is my cousin and she lives in London. She heard me talk up your school here so much she entreated her parents to let her come to be educated by you."
"I do not have room for boarders."
"She will board with me and my father when school is in session. On holidays and in the summers she will go home to London."
"That is acceptable to you, Sarah?"
"Yes, Miss Elliot."
"What is your greatest desire, Sarah?"
"I wish to be a great artist. Cousin Rosamond showed me some of your drawings and I should like to be able to draw like you."
"We do more than draw here, Sarah. We do sums, sew, learn French and Latin, play and sing with the pianoforte and recite aloud. We also do geography when we have time and will do nature study in the spring when the birds and insects return."
"That is also my desire," she said.
She was a miniature version of Rosamond. I feared she would outgrow the school in a year or two but for now she may be content with our meager learnings.
"I have waited to come here for many years."
Rosamond laughed. "Sarah, you know that is not true. You have not waited that long."
"Did a girl leave or die?"
Rosamond admonished the child but I stayed her with a hand. "Yes, a girl died, Sarah."
"What happened to her?"
"That is not important," Rosamond said.
"I do not believe in keeping truths from children," I said. "Sarah, she died because her throat was ripped apart, some say by a wolf or other wild animal."
Sarah looked at me. "You do not believe that, do you, Miss Elliot? You believe she was killed by a vampire."
"Sarah!" Rosamond declared. "Stop making up stories." Rosamond sighed loud enough for all the girls to hear. They were silent as they listened to our exchange.
"Vampires are not made up stories, they are real," Sarah said. "Ask Miss Elliot."
"I do not need to ask Miss Elliot for I know they are but fairy tales meant to scare children."
"I have seen one and she bit me here," Sarah indicated her neck. Two faint scars showed.
"That is from falling down when you were a baby," Rosamond said.
Sarah stared at me. The scars on my neck throbbed. I brought my hand halfway to my throat.
"Soon there will be another one, the girl who died will come for us in the night," Sarah said. One of the girls began to cry.
"Sarah! That is enough," Rosamond said.
"You may go have a seat by Anne, Sarah. Anne, raise your hand so Sarah knows who you are." Anne did so and Sarah, after taking off her things, went to sit by Anne, hands folded in front of her, waiting.
"I am sorry for her stories,that is one of the reasons she is here. She tells tales of vampires visiting the children at night, biting them on the neck and sucking their blood. I am afraid her imagination runs away with her."
"Thank you for telling me. I have need of a girl with some imagination, she can tell the younger children stories to entertain them when I am busy with the older girls."
"Make sure none of her stories are about vampires, ghosts or other supernatural beings."
"Thank you, Rosamond. I am sure that Sarah and I will get along very well."
After Rosamond left I watched Sarah. She seemed to fit in with the other girls her age, they welcomed her with no hesitation. Something about her worried me. Perhaps it was the bite on her neck, so similar to mine, was she just a child with a strong imagination or was there more to her story of being bitten by a vampire? Only time would tell.
My first inclination that Sophie had become a vampire was a few nights later. I heard a scream in the middle of the night, then silence. I rushed outside but could see no movement. In the morning, another one of the girls was missing. I inquired and it seemed that Anne became sick in the night and would not be attending school that day.
When the girls left for the day to go to their respective homes, I set out to visit Anne.
Her parents were only too glad to admit me and offer me tea. They praised my teaching and my faith in Anne.
"I should like to see Anne, if that is possible," I said.
"I will ask her to come to the parlour, she was sickening early in the day but she is better now, I believe," her mother said.
At that moment Anne drifted into the room as if she was in a trance of sorts. She stared straight ahead not focusing on anything or anyone.
"Anne?" I asked. "Anne, are you feeling better?"
Although she turned her head toward me at the sound of my voice, she did not appear to see me.
"Yes," she answered. Her voice was flat, devoid of emotion.
I noticed she wore a scarf about her neck. Pointing to it I asked if she would remove it. She untied it and let it fall to her lap.
"Turn your head and tilt it to the side," I commanded. She did so. There on her neck were two small puncture marks.
"What is it?" asked her mother. "Is it plague? Or something else? Should I send for the surgeon?"
"No, it is not necessary to send for the surgeon." My insides churned with this new information. I had no doubt in my mind that Anne had been visited by a vampire in the night and was still in the vampire's thrall.
"Anne, did you have any strange dreams last night?"
"Any dreams at all?"
"Tell me about them." Both Anne's mother and father hung on her every word as she began speaking in that same flat tone of voice.
"I dreamt about Sophie. She came to my window asking me to let her in. She said it was cold in the room where she had been laid out. She asked me to open my window so she might come into my room to get warm."
"And then what happened?"
"I let her in, she came to me and we embraced. She kissed me here." She indicated her neck. "She was so cold, little Sophie. After a time I slept and when I woke she was gone."
My thoughts were in a quandary, what should I do? Should I warn Anne's parents that Sophie was now a vampire and if she continued to drink Anne's blood, she would become one or die? I had thought that Sophie didn't drink Bertha's blood but perhaps she came to her later on and offered herself to the child so the child could drink her blood. Even if a vampire drank one's blood, one did not become one unless one drank from the vampire that bit them.
I recall reading about vampire lore back at Gateshead Hall before I was banished to Lowood. I knew for certain that a vampire visited me in the Red Room when I was ten. And I knew for certain that a vampire disguised as an angel drained my friend, Helen of her blood so that she died. I was just as certain now.
How much should I reveal to these hard working farmers? I sighed. Anne sat straight in her chair never wavering, her stare fixated on the flames in the fireplace.
"Does Anne have a cross? One she got as a child perhaps?"
Her mother answered. "Yes, Parson Rivers gave her one when she graduated from his tutelage."
"Where is this cross now?"
"I do not know, in her room perhaps."
"I know this may sound strange to you but please find it and place it about her neck. Do not take it off her, it is important."
"Why?" asked her father eyeing me askance.
"For protection," I said.
"From what?" asked her mother.
"Vampires," I said.
In the morning after the girls had their breakfast and were working on their sums. Mr. Rivers came to call. He frequently came to teach the girls about Christianity but he usually came after luncheon.
"Mr. Rivers, you are early today."
He took off his hat and stood looking uncomfortable, shifting his weight back and forth. "Yes, I have come to speak to you, Miss Elliot. Do you trust the girls to be on their own for a bit? I need to speak to you in private."
"Of course." I turned to the girls. "Please continue to work on your sums, I will be just outside with Mr. Rivers." I grabbed a shawl off the peg by the door and wrapped it around me.
Although the winter had loosened its hold on us, spring was still far behind. I shivered in the cold air.
"Miss Elliot, I have come from Anne's house and her parents told me a very disturbing tale."
"They spoke of Anne being bitten by a vampire, confirmed by none other than yourself, Miss Elliot, with the idea they should all protect themselves by wearing crosses around their necks." He frowned at me as I nodded.
"I did indeed tell them such."
"Miss Elliot, there are no vampires. What put this fanciful idea into your head?"
"I have seen one right before I left Th-right before I arrived here in Morton. And she bit me here, see?" I showed him the scars on my neck. "Sarah, the new girl has them in the same spot and so does Anne."
"Perhaps it is a sickness of some sort going around and the three of you were susceptible to it. You were in a state when you came to our doorstep, if you recall."
"It is a sickness, Mr. Rivers, but it is brought on by being enthralled by a vampire and then bitten. I believe that dear little Sophie was bitten by one, not a wolf as everyone has assumed and that she is now herself a vampire. She visited Anne and now Anne is enthralled."
"So, by your logic, Anne will become a vampire? But I see you are not a vampire, or are you?"
"No, I am not. In order to become a vampire one must drink from the vampire that bit you. I have no wish to become immortal."
"And why does this vampire not visit you any longer?"
"I wear this inside my clothes at all times." I brought out the tiny gold cross to show him. "In fact, I am glad you stopped by today, I wish you to give all the girls crosses, not just the ones who have graduated from your religious teachings. All of them, and their parents."
He laughed. "Surely you jest, Miss Elliot,that would be impossible. I cannot get over a hundred crosses to give away. I have a few in my study at the parish set aside for the boys and girls who have finished their studies with me. Usually when they are done with primary school, well, at least for the boys until recently. Now that there is a girls school I will be giving them crosses when they leave Morton's School for Girls, too but not before."
"Then I will ask the parents to string garlic over all windows, draw crosses on all doors and not invite any into their homes until we are able to subdue Sophie."
"Subdue? What do you mean? She lies in the parish hall below ground until the ground has thawed, then she will be buried."
"It will be too late by then. She walks the earth at night preying on the girls of the village, the ones who knew her. A vampire's thirst is unending. They feed and then they feed again." I sighed pulling the shawl closer around me. "The only way to subdue her is to drive a stake through her heart. That will turn her to dust. If we cannot stake her then we will have to cut off her head. Afterwards the place where she is buried needs to be strewn with salt and hawthorn branches laid over the grave. Her head and body need to be in separate graves."
Mr. Rivers looked at me with astonishment on his face. "I had not realized you were so well-versed in vampire lore, Miss Elliot."
"I read about them as a child and took it to heart in case I should meet up with one."
"But this is ridiculous, there are no vampires, Miss Elliot. I fear you are doing a disservice to the villagers if you keep up this nonsense."
I did not say anything. He continued. "I meant to ask you in the spring but I fear I cannot now."
"Ask me what?"
"You know I am off to India soon to be a missionary?"
"I have always wanted to teach the word of the Lord to heathens who have never heard it. This, I feel, is my true calling."
"Yes, you have said." I did not add, time and time again, although I wanted to.
"Now that my father is gone and Uncle John has died I am able to leave Morton and my parish and do God's work." He paused again staring out at the frozen fields.
"I must get back inside to the girls," I said preparing to go inside.
"Wait, please." I hesitated. "I meant to ask someone to go with me. I did not see myself going to India without a companion."
"Miss Oliver?" I ventured.
"No, as much as I wished it to be her, I feel that although I love her, she would not do well in the Indian climate. She is like a rose, she would wilt in the heat."
"I agree. Who then? One of your sisters? Mary?"
I spent the rest of the afternoon with the girls roaming the fields searching out Hawthorn bushes. Persuading them to take them home and put them under their bedroom windows, I knew it would keep Sophie away from them.
Fashioning a stake from an Ash tree I brought it to the parish where Sophie lay. It was nearing twilight and I was loathe to be out at dark with a vampire on the loose. I needed to stake her while it was still daylight.
Mr. Rivers was not at the parish. I told Hannah I would wait for him in the front parlour but instead I went down the hall to where Sophie lay. On a slab, looking as if she were sleeping instead of being dead these past weeks, I came over to her. Except for being pale, she looked like the sweet Sophie I knew. I took out the cross from around my neck so it was visible. Saying a quick prayer I thrust the stake into her heart. She opened her eyes, hissing at me. A noise behind me made me turn. St. John stood there.
"What are you doing, Jane Elliot?" Before our eyes Sophie's body dissolved into a fine dust. "What happened?" he asked. "Where did she go?"
"She's gone. Once I staked her she turned to dust." The stake lay on the table. I picked it up and put it back in my pocket. "There will be no vampires stalking the village tonight," I said.
Mr. Rivers-St. John-tried to explain that Sophie's body became dust because we did not bury her at the time of her death. He had no other explanation. In his mind, vampires did not exist, therefore Sophie was not a vampire.
Anne appeared to strengthen over the next few days. Sarah spoke of feeling stronger and even I welcomed the renewed strength I seemed to be having.
St. John came to my rooms after the girls had gone home. Spring was in full session and I relished the singing of the birds and the flowers that bloomed on the moors. He knocked and I bade him enter.
"Ah, you are sketching?"
"Yes, see if you can guess the likeness."
He studied the picture and his face changed. "Miss Oliver."
"Correct. I do not see why you do not declare yourself to her," I said in my plain way.
"I believe her father likes you and would welcome you into their family."
"I am bound for India, I cannot take her there." He stared at the picture some more.
"Would you like me to make a copy of it for you?" I asked in a softer tone. "To keep you company when you are in India or wherever your travels may take you?"
"Yes, thank you." He bent down and tore something off the picture placing the torn piece into his pocket. I did not see what he had torn off but thought his behavior odd.
On a warm spring evening I walked the moors grateful that no other vampire attacks had happened in our village. I spotted St. John walking toward me with something in his hand. I sat on a boulder, listening to the sounds of the night. He approached me, asking if he could sit next to me.
"Yes. Out for a walk?" I asked.
"I have come to find you. I have news."
"Oh?" More of his India news, no doubt.
"Today I received a letter from our solicitor in London. He has confirmed something that I was sure of. Shall I tell you what it is?"
"If you wish. Shall we walk back?"
"Yes." We began walking. "Remember my sisters and I told you about our uncle who died and left twenty thousand pounds to a relation we had never met?"
"Today I got it confirmed that the relation is someone I know after all."
"Who is it? Not Rosamond, I hope."
"Let me explain." By then we were back at the school. I put on the tea kettle as St. John sat at the table.
"By all means, please do."
"I believe we told you that our father and our mother's brother had a falling out over business."
"You told me, yes." I busied myself getting tea for us. Once the cups were in front of us St. John continued his story.
"About twenty years ago a rich man's daughter fell in love with a poor man. She went against her family's wishes and married the poor man. Her family cut her out of her inheritance as soon as she had married him. Unfortunately within two years both had died of a fever. They left behind an infant daughter who came to live with rich relations. The girl entered the household of Mr. and Mrs. John Reed of Gateshead Hall. The Reed's kept the child for ten years, but Mr. Reed died. However, he asked his wife to continue to care for the child in his absence. She did so but with a grievous heart. Soon the child was sent to a school, a school known for its charity cases with a hard-hearted master, a Mr. Brocklehurst. The girl finished her education and became a teacher at the school. What is wrong, Jane? You look so pale. To continue, soon the girl secured a position at a rich man's house as a governess to his ward. The man was called Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall. It is said that this Mr. Rochester offered marriage to the girl all in good faith, it seemed. But, it appears the man already had a wife, some say she is a lunatic kept in his attic hidden from society. When certain persons wished to verify the story with the governess, it appeared the governess had disappeared. The countryside was scoured but no trace of the girl could be found. All kinds of advertisements were offered for her safe return. I received one of these advertisements by our solicitor, Mr. Briggs. Jane? Why do you look so stricken?"
"What of Mr. Rochester? Is he well?"
"I do not know anything of Mr. Rochester."
"You wrote to him?"
"I did but I received a reply from a Mrs. Alice Fairfax who verified all that I had heard about the girl."
"And nothing of the master of the house?"
"No, alas. But I did secure the name of the governess." At that point he pulled from his pocket the piece of paper he had torn from my portrait of Rosamond. He smoothed it out and showed it to me. "You see what it says?"
"Jane Eyre," I said reading the writing I had done with my own hand.
"Mr. Briggs wrote to me of a Jane Eyre. I did not know a Jane Eyre but I did know a Jane Elliot. Once I had the piece of paper I wrote to Mr. Briggs. You are, in fact, not Jane Elliot, but Jane Eyre, am I correct?"
"Yes. I will not go into why I took an alias now, suffice it to say that I needed to keep my identity secret for a time. This Mr. Briggs is in London? Perhaps he knows more about Mr. Rochester."
"Mr. Briggs is not interested in Mr. Rochester, he is interested in you. Do you want to know what he wants with Jane Eyre?"
"Yes, tell me if you will."
"He wanted to tell you, that the uncle who lived in Madeira has died and left you a fortune. You, Jane are rich."
"Yes. And there is more. Are you aware that my mother's name was Eyre? She had two brothers, John Reed of Gateshead Hall who married Miss Jane Reed and took her name as his own, and John Eyre, a wine merchant housed in Madeira. Mr. Briggs wrote to us to tell us that Uncle John Eyre of Madeira had died and left us thirty guineas but the rest of his fortune, twenty thousand pounds he bequeathed to the orphan daughter brought up in Gateshead Hall. Uncle John had thought the girl had died as a child but he received a letter from her that she was alive. It is this letter that Mr. Briggs found after Uncle John died. Briggs wrote to me a few weeks later to inquire if I knew of the whereabouts of Jane Eyre, the orphan girl. When I saw your signature on the portrait, I knew I had found the orphan girl."
"But this is wonderful, your mother was my aunt, you realize what this means, St. John?"
"It means you and Diana and Mary are my cousins. I have a family at last!" I clapped my hands together with glee.
St. John frowned at me. "I tell you that you are rich and all you are concerned about is that you now have a family? You are a strange girl, Jane. Do you want to know how much of a fortune you now have?"
"Very well, St. John, tell me what I am worth." I thought it might be a few hundred pounds. Perhaps enough to commission a new gown or two and put some needed supplies into the school.
"You have been left twenty thousand pounds."
"What? No, you are mistaken, two perhaps but not twenty thousand."
St. John laughed. It was a strange sound because until that moment he had not ever laughed in my presence.
"There is no mistake, it is written in this letter drafted by Mr. Briggs himself."
"Why did Mr. Briggs write to you in particular?"
"As a parson of a parish I know many people. And now, Mr. Briggs knows you are here as school mistress of Morton."
"This means that Diana and Mary can come home at last."
"How do you mean?"
"Twenty thousand pounds divided by four is five thousand pounds each. You may go to India whenever you choose, Diana and Mary now have dowries and can reopen Marsh End. Oh, this is beyond belief!"
"The money is yours, Jane. Not ours."
"You are my family now, St. John, you and Diana and Mary. I am sharing this with you whether you will or not."
"I cannot take it," he said standing up.
"Then it will sit with Mr. Briggs until you have use for it. I do not want it."
"I cannot allow you to give away your fortune, Jane. Not even to us."
"It is done. I will write to Mr. Briggs tonight and tell him of my wishes. Please write to Diana and Mary and ask them to return to Marsh End. Oh, and please bring Hannah there, too. Surely the new parson will want his own servant?"
"I am overwhelmed by your generosity, Jane."
"I am overjoyed to have the family I so longed for as a child."
"What of the school, Jane? Will you leave us now?"
"Not for a while. I wish to keep it open as long as Miss Oliver wishes it to be so. Another teacher may be brought in and I will help her to adjust."
"I will arrange it."
As soon as St. John left I penned two letters. The first to Mr. Briggs-St. John had given me the address-and the second to Mrs. Fairfax at Thornfield Hall telling her of my newfound fortune. I fingered the cross around my neck wondering if I dared take it off. Not yet.
A CALL FROM BEYOND
It took several months to settle the fortune. Diana and Mary were thrilled to be able to leave their posts and return to Marsh End, as was Hannah. St. John began his preparations to leave. He installed another parson at his parish and moved back to Marsh End until he left. He needed to leave before the winter snows blanketed the grounds and made travel from London to Paris impossible.
Miss Oliver chose to close the school. It seemed she was getting married. Oh, not to St. John as I and she hoped but to another man in the village. I spent the week before Diana and Mary returned cleaning the house from top to bottom, along with Hannah's help and two of the older girls. Sarah and Anne. Both had become fast friends, even though Sarah was younger than Anne, her mind was as brilliant. After Miss Oliver was married Sarah would be returning to London. Anne would be traveling with her and living at her house in London in order to finish her schooling, paid for by Mr. Oliver.
At each window I laid a small branch of Hawthorn. It gave the rooms a lovely scent.
St. John noticed the Hawthorn.
"Vampire repellant?" he asked with a laugh.
"Yes, and it keeps out foul odors besides."
"Jane, you have done a wonder on this old house. It looks almost new again. My sisters will be proud to see how you have infused yourself into it. You will make a fine wife, if you will disallow yourself of these vampire notions."
I chose not to answer but went on brushing the hearth so I could set out a fire.
"Jane? Look at me, please?"
"Yes, St. John?"
"I have seen a change come over you these past few months, not because of your fortune or your generous sharing of your fortune but a genuine caring and concern of myself and my sisters. I have grown quite fond of you and I have chosen to overlook your eccentricities and ask you again to come to India with me as my wife and companion."
All I heard was 'my eccentricities.'
"Thank you, St. John. Again, I am grateful for the asking but my heart belongs to another."
"Who is this other?" he asked. His angry tone told me that I had hurt his feelings by refusing him.
"You do not know him, his name is not important. What is important is that I love him, he loves me and even if we are never together, I cannot be with any other while he is alive."
Just then Hannah exclaimed, "They are here, Miss Diana and Mary."
We rushed to door to embrace them.
Once they were settled and after a repast along with one of Hannah's wonderful pies, we sat in the drawing room around the fire. St. John read, Diana attempted to sketch her sister's face and Mary played the pianoforte. I was content to watch and wonder at the sight before me.
LOVE IS FOUND AGAIN
I told Diana of St. John's proposal. She was amazed but not surprised.
"He is fond of you. He wants a wife to take to India."
"I am not the companion he wants. He is in love with Rosamond but he let her get away. Now she is married to another."
"St. John is stubborn," she said. "Are you studying German?"
"I tried but it was too difficult without you there to correct my grammar or to practice conversations with."
"Then let us practice now."
St. John did not give up on me. He continued to ask me to marry him and each time I refused. But on this particular day I considered his proposal. What did I have here in England? I did not receive any letters from Thornfield Hall in spite of writing several. I even inquired of Mr. Briggs about the condition of Mr. Rochester, but he had no knowledge of him or of Thornfield.
Was my life to be this forlorn and bleak? Perhaps a change of scenery would be better.
"Very well, St. John, I will go to India with you. But, only if I am not encumbered by a marriage."
"Oh, Jane we shall have a good life together. The weather will be warm, I am sure and the food I have heard is full of spice, not like English food. As time goes on and you see the good works we do, you will come to love me as a husband."
"I go to India with you, but not as your wife. I will not marry you. I am in love with another."
"That love may fade in time."
"It will never fade."
"But how can I take a girl with me to India unless we are married? You are not my sister and I would not acknowledge you as such, it would be a lie and I am a man of God, I cannot lie."
"I do not know how to resolve this, St. John. I will not marry you. You have no wish to marry me and in time would resent the fact that I was not Rosamond."
He had the good grace to blush. "I am off to London tomorrow to say goodbye to friends and to tie up loose ends. I will return in a fortnight. Take that time to think about India, Jane. That is all I ask."
But, he did not go for another week. A week in which he shunned me daily, treating me to a cold, distant stare whenever he was in the same room with me.
"St. John loves you in his own way, Jane. Give him a chance," Mary said.
"I cannot. I do not love him and now that I have my own means of support, I fear I will never marry but be content to live here and sketch and read and take walks when the weather is fine."
"You will soon be bored of that life," Mary said. "Your intellect is too great to stifle for so long a time."
"Perhaps I will open the school again if I am bored, but I do not think I will be."
"St. John's heart will be broken if you do not marry him ere he goes."
"His heart is already broken by someone other than me."
At last he was prepared to leave in the morning. The four of us went for a walk after supper. Diana and Mary, sensing St. John wanted to be alone with me, soon made their way back to the house. St. John strode along beside me nary saying a word.
"I feel you are still angry with me, St. John. Please, let us not part in anger. I wish us to remain friends, as before."
"We are still friends," was his cool reply.
"No, not as before."
"I do not blame you for any wrongdoing and do not wish you ill by any means," he said.
"Yet you regard me as you would a stranger, treating me as if I was not your cousin who loves and only wishes to be loved by you."
"I do not regard you as a stranger to me, you are my cousin, Jane Eyre and cousin you shall remain." Meaning, I would not be his wife so I will stay his cousin, estranged from his good graces and subject to his cool exterior.
"It is not enough for me, St. John."
"It will have to do for I know no other way to behave towards you," was his reply.
"It is my wish for you to come to India with me to be my wife, will you come to India, Jane?"
"I may go but not as your wife, I am quite resolute on that."
"As your assistant."
"I have told you that as a man of God I cannot be in the presence of a single woman unless she is my sister or my wife."
"I will go only as your assistant, no other."
"I may yet consider that," he said.
"Before I can give you my promise to go to India, I need to resolve whether it would be good or wrong for me to leave England."
"Whatever do you mean? Do you think of Mr. Rochester? For I know it is he you long to see."
"I must find out if he is alive and well before I depart England never to return."
"I will not leave for India until I have your decision. I will return in a fortnight and then you shall make up your mind. After that I will not bother you again." He walked away from me.
Diana watched me walk up the path. She embraced me when she saw there were tears on my cheeks.
"You have refused him?"
"I have. But I have said I might go to India as his assistant. He returns in a fortnight and it is then he will ask me for my decision. Perhaps I am to marry him, after all. Not for love, oh, no, he has made that clear but a sense of duty."
"No, Jane you cannot do it. I love my brother very much and feel he will do great things. And of course I would welcome you as my sister-in-law, as would Mary but I cannot allow you to marry out of a sense of duty! What of love?"
"I have had love and it brings nothing but pain and sorrow."
"If you are resolute on it, you should tell St. John tonight before he goes so he may make the arrangements." She stared at me. "But, I fear for your health in that hot climate, Jane. And if you go without the love and caring of a sympathetic husband, you go to your death, surely you see that?"
"I will seek out St. John now," I said leaving to find him.
He stood in the doorway ready to leave for Cambridge. He turned when he heard my footsteps behind him.
"I will go to India with you," I said. "As your wife."
He gathered me in his arms with a stiff embrace. "Oh, Jane, thank you, together we will do God's work and it is His will we will follow. Thank you." He kissed my forehead and I was remembering other kisses from someone who truly loved me. I closed my eyes to shut out the pain.
The house was silent, Diana and Mary off to their rooms, I suppose. St. John kept me in his arms but it was not a comfortable repose. A sudden draft made the candle go out and I heard from the depths of my being a voice calling to me.
"Jane, Jane, Jane-" Nothing more. I bade St. John to hush when he asked what was wrong when I started. The voice was the voice of my beloved, Edward Fairfax Rochester and I knew without a doubt he was calling for me to come to him.
I broke away from St. John going out into the dark. Standing at the gate I called out to him, "Where are you, Edward? Help me find you." But, no answer was heard. Presently I went back inside. St. John left and I lay down on my bed waiting for the call to come again.
In the morning Hannah brought me a note from St. John stating he would be back in a fortnight and hoped my finding of Mr. Rochester would quell my doubts about marriage.
I told Diana and Mary I would be leaving on a journey that would last more than a week. They were concerned I would not be safe by myself. But I assured them I would be. I needed to go to Thornfield to see for myself why I did not hear from Mrs. Fairfax.
ASHES TO ASHES
The coach left me off in Millcote. I walked the lane to the clearing above Thornfield, almost hoping I would see Edward waiting on the lane as I had so long ago. It was full on dark by the time I came to the clearing but there was a full moon that peeked in and out of clouds. I waited for the clouds to lift so I could glimpse the mansion. Finally, the clouds parted and there was Thornfield gleaming in the moonlight. But, something was wrong. The stately turrets were no longer standing but blackened with soot. Horrified I stared until the clouds covered the moon again and the vision was plunged into darkness once more.
I made my way carefully down the lane to the mansion. I stood staring at the once beautiful stones now blackened and broken. A fire must have happened here. A devastating fire destroying all remnants of the glory that was Thornfield. Stricken with unbelievable sadness I sank to my knees sobbing out my sorrow. All of my hopes were now dashed. Where was Edward, had he been consumed in the fire? And what of Mrs. Fairfax? John? Leah? I assumed Adele would have been at school and safe but was she truly an orphan now? I spotted the stone bench in the garden, still standing and whole. Making my way to it, I sat down on it wiping my eyes. My heart was heavy with longing. If I had been here I, too might have perished in the fire. Better to have lost my life with Edward then to live this half life without him. Sobbing aloud I startled when someone called out to me.
"Who is there, please?" a woman asked. She came into view just as the moon broke through a cloud. Mrs. Fairfax! I rushed to embrace her, crying anew at the sight of my old friend.
"Is that Jane? Jane Eyre?" she cried holding me in a tight embrace.
"It is I, Mrs. Fairfax, I have returned to Thornfield."
We sat down on the bench holding hands as old friends ought. I leaned my head on her shoulder feeling as if I had come home at last.
"But where have you been, Jane? I have so much to tell you, will you come with me to my cottage? It is not far from here."
"I will, of course. I long to hear all about Thornfield and its inhabitants. Scattered now, no doubt."
As soon as we were settled in her small parlour she served us tea. "This is my place now, John and Mary live near here."
"Where is Adele?" I asked.
"Still at school. She was not here the night of the fire. Mr. Rochester arranged for her schooling to be paid until she is of age, so she may stay there as she wishes until then."
The way she spoke about Edward, I was afraid he was dead. I needed to know the truth.
"Tell me about the fire."
"Well, after you disappeared and we looked and looked for you the whole of England, Mr. Rochester fell into a deep depression, blacker than ever I have seen. He sent Adele off but he neglected his business, his horses, even Thornfield itself. He let Grace Poole go, saying he would be the one to care for Bertha."
"You knew about Bertha?" I asked.
"Yes, that is why I cautioned you about marrying him. I knew he was still married to her."
"And you know she's a vampire?"
"I had my suspicions that she was not quite right in her mind. When Mr. Rochester began showing signs of weakness and becoming pale I worried."
"He was letting her drink from him," I stated. He would believe he had nothing to live for with my absence weighing heavy on his heart. "He wanted to die."
"I believe so. I tried to help him, as did John but he would broke no help from any of us. He kept slipping farther and farther away from us. The surgeon was called in to attend to his neck wounds, they had festered and given him a fever. He thrashed and tossed about in his bed for days, we thought he was lost. Finally, on the third day he rose and went about his business like he had never been ill a day. He did not smile or laugh at all. He looked as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders."
At this point I began to cry knowing I was the one who burdened his heart with the darkest of sorrows. He could find no joy without me by his side. He sought the black night instead of the bright day.
Mrs. Fairfax put her hand over mine. "Do not blame yourself, Jane. He was not free to marry you and should not have given you the hope that you would be mistress of Thornfield."
"But he despaired without me," I sobbed. "I could have prevented it if I would have but stayed and consented to be his mistress as he asked."
If Mrs. Fairfax was shocked by this admission, she did not appear to be. In a calm voice she said, "You could not go against the laws of our country or the laws of God. To do so would cause a festering wound to eat at your soul until there was nothing left. I have seen such women as that walking the streets of London with nothing behind their eyes but a vacancy. They are dead to themselves and feel nothing but sorrow and shame. I would not wish that upon you, Jane."
"Finish your tale, please," I said wiping my eyes and trying to swallow my tears down.
"On the night of the fire, all except for me, John, Mr. Rochester and Bertha were present. I believe that Mr. Rochester meant to blow out his candle that night, I do not think for an instant that he wanted to burn us all in our sleep."
"The bed curtains caught on fire again?"
"No, Bertha came into his room, he had not locked his door and took the candle setting flame to anything that burned. Before he was awakened she had set fire to the tapestries in the hallway and she laughed as they burned. John and I got out the front but Mr. Rochester wanted to save Bertha. She ran back to the third floor and he followed her calling her name. She climbed out of a window and stood on the roof laughing and laughing. In her hands she held the wedding dress you had chosen to wear, the one she had rendered into shreds. She put the veil on with the now wilted purple and blue Gillyflowers on it atop her head and jumped off the roof. She landed on one of the rods holding the turret up. It pierced her heart and she turned to dust. Mr. Rochester in his state of mind jumped after her, I do not know if he meant to save her or save himself but he fell onto the stone courtyard below and there he lay."
"Oh, poor Edward," I sobbed. I put my face in my hands and cried. "My dear, Edward how I wish I could have saved you from the fire again. But you are gone from me forever and I wish it were not so!"
"But, what are you saying, Jane? Mr. Rochester is not gone."
I lifted my head. "He is not?"
"No, a piece of burning wood fell on him and blinded him. He has burn scars on his hands and face, but he is still very much alive."
I stood up. "Where is he? I must go to him!"
"Sit down, Jane. There will be time enough in the morning. John and I take him his meals and when we go to bring his breakfast, you shall go with us. Is that acceptable?"She squeezed my hand.
"Oh, yes, thank you, Mrs. Fairfax, thank you."
My heart swelled with joy. He is alive! It sang. He lives and I will go to him on the morrow. Greater happiness could not have been mine that night. I lay in the bed Mrs. Fairfax-she entreated me to call her Alice now that I was no longer the governess-provided for me. I lay picturing Edward's stern face wondering what damage the fire had wrought and if he still remembered me or if he still wanted me as much as I wanted to be his again.
In the morning I told Alice of my time spent away from Thornfield. I told her about my uncle dying and my five thousand pounds and how I shared the original amount of twenty thousand with my new-found cousins, Diana, Mary and St. John Rivers.
"Did your cousins know about Thornfield? she asked.
"Of a sort. I told them very little. I opened a school for a time and was the school mistress. One night I saw Bertha at my window and the next night one of my girls died. She became a vampire and I had to put a stake through her heart in order to stop her."
"Oh, my dear."
"My cousin, St. John was going to India to be a missionary and he asked me to go along to be his wife but at first I refused. I had to see Edward first to see if I still loved him before I could commit myself to St. John. I told him that if Mr. Rochester was well and no longer wanted me, I would go to India with him and be his wife. "
"Do you love him?"
"No, I do not. I thought I might be able to love him in time but now that I know Edward is alive, I know that no other man will ever have my heart."
"Then it is time you went to him, Jane. He needs you as he has needed no other. Come."
A DREAM REALIZED
The quiet surrounding the small cottage where John drove us in the cart seemed to echo throughout the woods. The only sound present was that of the cart making its way through the rutted trail. At last we came to a sort of clearing and there, half hidden in the shadows stood a small stone cottage. It looked cozy enough with smoke coming out of the chimney. A man stood at the doorway with a dog by his side. Pilot! I recognized him immediately. It was my own dear Edward. His stance was the same although his empty eyes scanned the ground, I knew he did not see us.
"John? Is that you with my breakfast? You are late," he grumbled. He felt for the first step with his foot and then the next as he traversed the steps. John stopped the cart and went to help Edward by taking his arm.
"Let me help you, sir," John said.
"Leave me alone," Edward said attempting to pull his arm out from John's grasp. He lost his balance and fell against the ground with a thump. My hand went to my mouth to stifle the gasp I was about to utter aloud. "Do not just stand there gaping at me, help me up!" Edward said waving a hand in John's direction.
"Shall you sup in the garden, Mr. Rochester?" asked Mrs. Fairfax.
"Yes, I shall. Is that not my usual place if the weather is fine?" His tone was gruff.
"It is indeed. I have a surprise for you this morning," she said. Her eyes twinkled at me.
"I do not like surprises, Pilot, come! Heel!" Pilot had come over to me sniffing my gown and wagging his tail in happiness at my return. I scratched his ears and bent down to whisper what a good dog he was in his ear. "Where has that deduced dog got to? Can you see him, John? What is he doing?"
"I see him, sir. He appears to be sniffing."
I put my finger against my lips to keep John from saying my name. He nodded helping Edward to the garden where a small table and two chairs had been set up.
"Will you join me for breakfast, John?"
"Not today, sir. I have errands to do in Millcote."
"I cannot, John has asked me to go with him to shop, so I shall. We will be back at luncheon."
Edward bent to his plate and began eating. He lifted an empty glass to his mouth. The cart was clattering away. "Wait," Edward called. "I have no water to drink. Deuce it all!"
"I will fetch you fresh water, sir," I said my voice barely audible.
"Who is that? One of the servant girls from the village inn?"
I did not answer but went inside to fetch water from the pitcher sitting on the table. Taking a sip I decided it was fresh. I brought it out to Edward who took it from my hand as soon as I had touched it to his.
"Thank you," he said. "Sit down and keep my company, I suppose you are to be my helper today?"
"Yes," I said with a whisper.
"Speak up, girl. I can barely hear you." He went on eating and I watched his face. The scars on the left side were worse than the ones on the right. A sort of puckering happened drawing up his eye and the side of his mouth in a grotesque half smile. Still the face did not look hideous to me. I suppose I looked upon it through the eyes of love, rather than how most would view his deformity. I sensed a sorrow in him that went deeper than I had ever imagined anyone capable of enduring. With his wife gone, should he not be happy and carefree? But, perhaps the deformity caused him grief, although I did not think it so, he was not handsome before and was able to cope with his less than a handsome face. In my eyes his face was no less handsome than before, just changed. There was no light in his eyes any longer, this I attributed to the blindness. Dark brown though they were still, the one on the left side, was swollen almost shut and the one on the right bore no light within. A flat dull brown stared at nothing. To test his vision I waved a hand in front of his face forgetting he might feel the breeze from it.
He jerked back nearly upsetting his chair. "What are you doing, girl? Why do you vex me so?"
"I am sorry, sir. I wanted to know if you could see shadows or shapes."
"If I am in bright light I may see a glimpse of a shadow but none else. Why the deuce did you not just ask it of me?"
"I apologize, sir," I said again. Pilot came back to lay at my feet content that his Jane had returned. I ruffled his ears.
"Where is my dog, do you see him?"
"He is here, sir. At my feet, he lies on the ground content and almost asleep."
"How odd. He is usually shy of strangers. Well, no matter. If you are here to attend to me, girl then help me go back inside."
"Oh, no, sir. It is a beautiful day, bright and sunny. You need the sun, you are so pale."
"I am pale," he laughed. "Girl, do you not have eyes in your head?"
"Yes, I have eyes."
"And do you see with those eyes or are you as blind as I am?"
"I see with them."
"Perhaps you are too polite to mention my scars. No matter how much sun I get they will not fade. I am a monster that children run from that is why I am sequestered here alone in these woods so that none will scream in terror at my monstrous face."
"Your face is not monstrous, sir. You have some scars, it is true but they are not as visible as you may believe. In the right light I should not see them at all."
He laughed but it was not a pleasant sound. "In the right light? What light? Darkness? Oh, by all means, take me inside, draw the curtains closed and blow out the candles so that none will be subjected to my deformities." He stood up. This time he did upset his chair. He tripped on it before I could help him and fell down. Pilot was upon him in an instant licking his face in sympathy.
"Are you hurt, sir?"
"No, get this dog off of me, Pilot, heel! Help me up, girl." He reached out a hand to me. I took his hand to help him to his feet but he turned his head to me.
"Is something wrong, sir?" I asked as I pulled him to his feet.
"No, it is-no-it is nothing. For a moment you seemed familiar."
"I did? How so, sir?"
"The touch of your hand felt like the touch of a girl's hand I felt so very long ago. A girl I loved."
"What happened to this girl, sir?" We were walking back to the cottage. I kept my hand on his elbow in order to steer him in the right direction. I kept up a pressure whenever he strayed from the path. He followed the pressure of my hand on his arm seamlessly so it appeared that we were but two people out for a morning stroll.
"The girl left me. I fell into a pit of despair unlike any I have ever known. The loss of her love and her presence left a hole in my heart and in my soul. A hole that nothing or no one could repair."
"I am sorry, sir." We were now at the two steps going into the cottage. "One step up, sir, now the other. We are on level ground now."
"Thank you for your assistance, girl. Lead me to a chair I should like to sit down. Do you read?"
"I have a book of poetry I would like you read aloud to me. It is on the table there by the fire. Do you see it?"
"I do, sir. I will read it to you for a time." I got him settled in the chair and I drew another one closer to him. I began to read the poems aloud to him.
THE FIRST KISS OF LOVE
Away with your fictions of flimsy romance,
Those tissues of falsehood which Folly has wove;
Give me the mild beam of the soul-breathing glance,
Or the rapture which dwells on the first kiss of love.
Ye rhymers, whose bosoms with fantasy glow,
Whose pastoral passions are made for the grove;
From what blest inspiration your sonnets would flow,
Could you ever have tasted the first kiss of love.
If Apollo should e'er his assistance refuse,
Or the Nine be dispos'd from your service to rove,
Invoke them no more, bid adieu to the Muse,
And try the effect, of the first kiss of love.
I hate you, ye cold compositions of art,
Though prudes may condemn me, and bigots reprove;
I court the effusions that spring from the heart,
Which throbs, with delight, to the first kiss of love.
Your shepherds, your flocks, those fantastical themes,
Perhaps may amuse, yet they never can move:
Arcadia displays but a region of dreams;
What are visions like these, to the first kiss of love?
Oh! cease to affirm that man, since his birth,
From Adam, till now, has with wretchedness strove;
Some portion of Paradise still is on earth,
And Eden revives, in the first kiss of love.
When age chills the blood, when our pleasures are past—
For years fleet away with the wings of the dove—
The dearest remembrance will still be the last,
Our sweetest memorial, the first kiss of love.
The next poem was entitled:
SO WE'LL GO NO MORE A-ROVING
So we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And Love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.
The last poem I read was:
SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY
She walks in beauty—like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to the tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face—
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow
But tell of days in goodness spent
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.
By the time I read the last poem I was reading in my own clear voice. Edward paused when I finished.
"Is something wrong?" I asked.
"You have a voice that I have heard in my dreams, so many times. I wonder now why I am being tormented this way, why am I forced to remember her voice and earlier when you touched my arm, it seemed as if you were her."
"This is someone you once loved?"
"Yes, and still do with all my heart."
"What happened to her, did she die?"
"No, she left because I deceived her. I did not mean to ensnare her in the lies I had woven but I thought that her love for me would make the untruths palatable both to her and to me."
"But she would not listen to your explanations?"
"She listened and I asked her to go against her will and God's and she refused. She remained steadfast in her beliefs that what I had asked of her was an abomination. And, in truth, it was. But I so longed to have what other men had."
"And what was that?"
"A wife, a companion who loved me and would be my equal in love and intellect, someone I could trust and rely upon to support me as I would support her. I thought our love a pure, untainted thing until I stained it with the blood of my circumstances." I knew, of course, what he spoke of, but he was careful not to reveal the exact nature of his demands nor of the nature of his then wife, Bertha, the vampire. How long should this charade continue? I asked myself. But I was not ready to reveal myself to him, not yet.
"What circumstances?" I asked.
He bowed his head. "I had a wife, a wife who was living if you can say that a creature of the night lives."
"You asked this young girl, inexperienced in the ways of the world to marry you when you still had a wife?"
"Yes, but I was in love with my Janie."
"And love conquers all?"
"Why do you vex me with these questions? Bringing it all to the surface again? Who are you to wound me so?" I did not answer. Presently he went on. "I believed that my love and hers would circumvent the laws of our country and the laws of God. I meant to take her to a villa in France or Italy and install her by my side as my wife, although not in the eyes of society. She would be my mistress and be shunned for all time. She did not forsee that sort of life for herself."
"She did not love you enough."
"She did love me, she loved me beyond measure and that is why she could not do as I asked."
"I do not understand."
"Her love for me was built on respect for who I was as a man and that respect would be lost if she did as I asked. At first it would be fine, but soon, I would lose the only thing I ever wanted, her respect and caring and that would be a fate worse than the one I have endured. Better to have lost her before I became even more ensconced."
"Tell me what happened to your face and eyes."
"I was in a fire, set by the creature I called my wife, the creature that society knew as Mrs. Rochester. She crept into my room and set my bed curtains afire and then the entire hallway was lit. I got the servants out but she remained inside and I sought to save her. At first I wanted nothing more but to leave her to burn in the fires of Hell she created for me. But, I could not. I raced up the stairs as the house burned around me. I knew the stone would not burn but the wood inside would be fuel and that is what was burning so fierce. Instead of stopping, the creature ran to a window and climbed out onto the roof. There she stood laughing as my family home crackled and burned under my feet. I knew I would have to jump to the stone covered patio below if I was to survive. I could feel the heat beneath my feet. The creature edged closer and closer to the edge watching me, her fangs were bared and I saw only hunger and hatred in her eyes. She stepped off the edge fully believing she would survive, perhaps she meant to land on her feet. But she misjudged the distance and landed with a metal stake through her heart. For a brief instant she became the woman and not the creature, then she was gone. Turned to dust in an instant. I felt the flames behind me so I jumped off to the side. A wooden beam that was aflame hit me on the head as I fell through the air. I do not recall the rest but I believe that John, my servant who brought you here today, told me that I lay sprawled on the ground. He thought me dead but when I moaned he knew I was not. Mrs. Fairfax, Mary, another servant, and John brought me here to heal. The surgeon came and did what he could. He could not save my eyesight but thought that in time I might be able to see shapes or shadows again. I do see shapes if the light is just right but I cannot make out faces."
"A sad tale," I said. "And the girl you loved? Surely now that you are unencumbered she might come and live with you as your true wife in the eyes of England and of God?"
"I do not wish her to see me as I am. Better she remember me as I was, although my face was not handsome when she knew me, it was whole and not hideous."
"In certain light it looked hideous, I believe or if a scowl was upon your face."
"How do you speak to me so, girl? Were you at Thornfield Hall, perhaps as a servant?"
"Perhaps," I said. I put a hand on his arm and he grasped it in his.
"This hand feels so familiar." I leaned over to kiss his hand. "And the kiss, it cannot be."
He shook his head. "I am mad, surely this is a delusion? Your voice and the cool touch of your hand has affected my mind."
"How so?" I kept my hand in his with the other other I traced the back of his hand where the burn scars were prominent.
"You seem as if you could be her, Jane. My Janie."
"It is I, sir. It is I, Jane Eyre come to you at last."
He stood up as I did I. We embraced and he muttered into my hair. "Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre." As if the saying of my name would be enough and perhaps it was.
"I am here, sir and I am happy to be by your side again."
"Perhaps this is a dream from which I cannot wake. A dream that my Jane is in my arms again. That she will love me forever and stay by my side."
"I do love you, Edward and I will stay with you forever from this day forward."
"But how do you come to me, Jane? Are you a spirit lying dead in the moors come to mock me?"
"I am flesh and blood, as are you, sir."
"And have you been cast out of society for your deeds?"
"No, sir. I am independent and may do as I wish. My uncle in Madeira left me my own means of support. He left me five thousand pounds."
"Five thousand? Then you are rich and thus may go wherever you choose."
"I choose to stay here with you, sir. If you do not wish me to be with you I will build a small cottage next to yours and when you tire of your own company or that of Pilot's you may come to my parlour for some welcome companionship. For I will open my door for you anytime you wish."
"And you will be my companion if I ask it of you?"
"I will be your companion, your helper, your eyes. You have my heart, dear Edward as you always have had and it is my sincerest wish to spend my life as your helpmate."
He did not answer and I felt his arms loosen about me. He does not love me any longer. It was a mistake to come and declare myself to him. I began to step back out of the embrace but he pulled me in again.
"No, do not go yet, Jane. Please, but hear me out. You are young and to shackle you to such a man that is blind and helpless would be wrong. I am well aware of your generous spirit and I have no doubt you would be a willing nurse to me. Someday you may wish to marry." He wants me only as a nurse to him? At that point I did step out of the embrace and sat back down on the chair not trusting my legs to hold me up any longer. He, too sat down in his chair.
"I may never marry," I said.
"You will want to someday, you were good with Adele, perhaps you will want children of your own and then where will I be? Alone and desolate again."
"I will stay by your side, Edward, you will not be alone again."
"You say that now but you may leave again someday and I should not bear it if you did. Far better you go now away from me."
Pilot, who had come in with us, began to bark. I looked out the window and saw John with the cart and luncheon. "Here is John with our luncheon for we have talked away the morning, sir. After our repast we will walk in the garden before the rain comes and I will tell you of my adventures since I left Thornfield."
"Tell me now," he said.
"No, suffice it to say that I was well and cared for by relations I did not know I had. Let us eat, sir for I am hungry. The tale will keep."
After our meal we did indeed walk in the garden. We sat on the stone bench and I regaled Edward of my time in Morton. I told him about Diana, Mary and St. John although I neglected to tell him that St. John asked me to be his wife.
"And this Rivers has gone to India to be a missionary?"
"He is soon to go, yes."
"And he did not ask you to go with him?"
I had forgotten how astute Edward could be. "Yes, he did and I refused to go until I knew of your fate and if you still cared for me."
"Now you are free to go to India with him for you know my fate. Write to him at once Jane and tell him you are eager to travel to India."
"No, sir, I cannot do that."
"Why not? I have no hold over you any longer."
"Sir, you do have a hold over me, over my heart. I love you, Edward, as I have always loved you and to see you now all memories of Morton and St. John fly out of my head for my heart only sees you."
"You look much the same to me as before, sir."
"You are ever the frank and honest girl, are you not? Yet you have been cruel to me, too."
"You deserted me without a word, no note. I found your trunks still packed for our travels, the pearl necklace laid out but no sign of its mistress. Gone, vanished in the night penniless, destitute. Where would she go? What would she do?"
"I have told you, sir about the school and the Rivers family that took me in."
"Yes, and of this St. John who asked you to be his wife."
"I refused him and still do to this day."
"You misunderstand me, Jane. I do not want a nurse or a companion, I want a wife."
"Then wife I shall be."
"Do not jest with me, Jane for I have neither eyes to see the look on your face nor cannot distinguish if you are teasing me."
"I do not jest, Edward."
"This may be all a dream. I did not tell you but a night not so very long ago I stood in the breeze letting it wash over me and I felt such a longing for you that I could not help but call out your name to the winds."
"I heard it carried on the wind."
"How could you have heard it?"
"I do not know but that call is what brought me here to you."
"It is funny but I thought I heard your voice saying 'I am coming Edward, wait for me.'"
"I said it out loud and let the breeze carry my words to you."
"Do you intend to marry me, Jane?"
"I do, sir."
"Let us tell John so he may arrange a carriage to the chapel. This time it will be aboveboard and legal in the eyes of God and man." He had grasped my hand and he brought it to his lips. "I have the pearl necklace you may wear on your wedding day, Jane. Will you come to this cottage to live or shall we go elsewhere?"
"This cottage needs some fixing up, but it will do for me. I wish Mrs. Fairfax to come live here along with John and Mary."
"There is not room for all but there is a small cottage nearby that belongs to me as well, not for you but for John and Mary, then Mrs. Fairfax may live with us."
"Yes, that is a plan."
"Oh, Jane, I do not believe this is real. I believe I am still dreaming and in a minute I will awake to my gloomy existence again."
"I am real, sir." He must have heard a tone in my voice because he asked me what was wrong.
"I had to kill a child, Edward. Bertha came to my window one evening asking to be let in."
"She had escaped and was gone for a time, I thought she had gone to Millcote."
"No, she came to me. On the night I left Thornfield she came into my room and bit me. She left me for dead, drained of blood but I recovered and left. When a vampire bites you it leaves you in a sort of trance and it was that trance that led me to Morton." I sighed. "I had no idea she would be drawn to me still. When I refused to let her in, she went to the home of one of my youngest pupils, Sophie. She not only bit her but turned her into a vampire. Sophie, in turn bit another girl, Anne and enthralled her so she was but a former shell of herself. I knew I had to stop Sophie. I tried to tell St. John, the parson about Sophie but he did not believe me and thought I had an overactive imagination. I found Sophie lying on a table in the parish hall-it was winter and they could not bury her until the ground thawed-I had fashioned a wooden stake out of an Ash tree and I put it through her heart. St. John was behind me and he saw me kill her. She opened her eyes and for an instant I saw Sophie, not the creature of the night she had become but the little girl who was bright and eager to learn. She turned to dust before my eyes."
"The same as Bertha did," he said. "What did Rivers say? Did he believe you then?"
"No, he thought she turned to dust because she had not been buried when she died several weeks before."
"I am sorry you had to kill her, Jane but you could not allow any other vampires to prey on the villagers. No more vampires came to Morton?"
"And we have none here or at Millcote, I have my ear to the ground about any odd or unusual circumstances. When Bertha returned, I redoubled the efforts to keep her locked in. I even let her feed upon me so that no others would be harmed."
"You wanted her to turn you?"
"No, I wanted her to bring me to the brink of death and let me die. I lost all hope when you left me, Jane." He held up a hand at my gasp. "Do not misunderstand me, Jane. I do not blame you for my hopelessness. It is something I have lived with for many years, many years before you came to Thornfield." He paused again. "For a time, I had hope, hope that the light that shone in your eyes when you looked upon me would illuminate the shadows that dwelled in my soul and bring me the happiness I so longed to have but could not find."
"And was that light enough?"
"For a time, but when you left all the light went with you and I sorrowed so much that I lost my will to live. I came close to the brink of death one night when I let Bertha drink her fill. As I lay prone on the bed where Mason lay after she had bitten him, remember?"
"Yes, of course."
"You were so calm that night, Jane. That is when I fell in love with you, your quiet demeanor with Mason, your genuine caring and concern for his wellbeing and mine nearly brought me to tears."
"I did as you asked, Edward."
"Yes, you did." He paused again. "That night as I lay with my life's breath leaving my body I fancied I saw you coming into the room to tend my wounds."
"I dreamt of you that night. I recall a dream in which I tended your wounds."
"Did I die of those wounds?"
"No, you were healed."
"You were there, in spirit if not in flesh. For as soon as I felt your touch upon my neck, I knew that I would not die that night. I would see my Janie again and we would be together. A glimmer of hope fell upon me as a glint of sunlight shines through the clouds of gray. But, as the days and nights wore on, I lost hope again. I refused to let Bertha drink from me her fill again. That enraged her and that is why she tried to burn me and the household alive. I believe she wanted to die, that somewhere in her mind the human part of her still existed and that part of her destroyed the vampire part of her."
"Perhaps she loved you still," I said.
"Perhaps she did." He squeezed my hand. "Now, let us speak of our wedding day. I want it to be in three days and no more."
I laughed. "I am willing, Edward."
"We shall have John, Mary and Mrs. Fairfax as witnesses."
"And what about Adele? Should she not come home from school?"
"Ah, yes, send for her at once, Jane. It will be like old times, we will marry in the garden here. Are there blue and purple Gillyflowers in bloom?"
"Then we will be married among the flowers and you shall wear them in your hair. That will be your veil."
"And afterwards we will go inside and feast on breads, cakes and pies," I said. A noise made me look up. "Oh, there is John and Mrs. Fairfax is with him. Shall we tell them our news?"
"Yes, you go ahead, I do not believe my voice is strong enough for the emotions that are playing with me just now."
"I will tell them. Keep my place for me, Edward, I will return."
I left the bench and hurried to meet John and Mrs. Fairfax. I held out my hands to her. "Congratulate us, Mrs. Fairfax. Edward and I are to be married in three days."
She embraced me, weeping at the news. "Oh, my dear, Jane. At last! But, three days? I have so much to do. Where will you live?"
"Here in the cottage and we wish you to come live with us. John and Mary will live in the cottage down the way. It, too belongs to Mr. Rochester."
"That is most generous, Miss," said John with a smile.
"Oh, and I must write to Adele, you know where she is? She must be present for the wedding."
"I will write to her this very day and send her enough money to come home to us." She clapped her hands together. "Three days? Oh, there is so much to be done! I must clean the cottage and let it air out. Fresh linens must be had and the rugs beat. Is there a guest list?"
"No, only Adele, you, John and Mary. I will write to the Misses Rivers and let them know afterwards. They may write to their brother as they wish or no."
The three days passed in a blur. None of my old wedding trousseau had been saved in the fire but I needed nothing except a clean dress. I found one in Millcote and although Edward wanted to pay, he was not as flush as before so we would have to rely on my fortune which I cheerfully gave over to him to refurnish the cottage as we needed. We decided that since the weather did not appear to cooperate with our plans since the clouds came in and threatened rain that the wedding must be held in the chapel instead of in the garden. If the day turned fair, as we hoped it might, we could have luncheon in the garden. It would give us more room. Mrs. Fairfax was busy making pies, she was more than a housekeeper, it seems.
On the third day John brought Adele in from Millcote. She finally arrived. A girl with ringlets and a pale blue dress chattering in French ran into my arms nearly knocking me over. I would not have recognized her, except for the broken English and smattering of French. She was so changed, two years since I had seen her, now a girl of twelve and taller than I thought she would be.
"Oh, Miss, Miss Eyre, I am so pleased you have come back to us!" she said in French and English as usual. She hugged me again squeezing the breath out of me.
"Adele," I laughed. "Pick one language to speak in, not two."
"Oh, I also know Latin and Italian and German!" In order to demonstrate she chattered away in all three plus in English and French.
"Enough!" I said leading her into the cottage now cleaned and freshened with herbs. She saw Edward standing by the door and startled at his appearance. "Do not comment on his face," I whispered to her.
She ran into his arms. "Oh, Mr. Rochester, I am so happy to be home in England again! I missed you all so much. Did you know I cried every night when I first went to school? I did not know what happened to Miss Eyre and I was so vexed by this. I could not be consoled even by pink iced cake which they plied me with."
I laughed at her logic.
"Enough, child, you are taxing my patience already," Edward said but he said it with a smile. It was clear he was happy.
"We are glad you are home, too Adele. And you are welcome to come home to us anytime you wish," I said.
"But my school is so far from my dear England. I wish to go to school here. May I? The school is so strict, we do not eat enough cakes for my taste."
"Perhaps we will have you transfer to a school here in England," Edward said. "We will decide after the wedding has taken place."
"Thank you, Mr. Rochester, Miss Eyre, oh soon I should call you Mrs. Rochester, should I not?"
"I think you may call me Jane, Adele especially since you are growing up."
She giggled. "Miss Jane."
We all piled into the carriage to take us to the chapel. The priest smiled at me nodding at Edward as we took our places at the altar.
When he asked if there were any impediments, I felt Edward tense up but no one came forward and the ceremony proceeded as planned.
Adele and Mrs. Fairfax threw rice at us as we proceeded down the aisle afterwards. We invited the priest back to the cottage for luncheon and he willingly accepted.
Mrs. Rochester. I tried the name on for size and found it fit very well.
Edward took my arm as we walked back to the carriage. "Am I still as handsome a rake as I once was?" he asked.
"You were never handsome, Edward."
He laughed, a booming sound that made the rest of the wedding party smile.
"Ever the honest girl, Jane. It is so refreshing to hear."
"I will always be honest with you, Edward and I will always love you."
"And I you."
The feast that Mrs. Fairfax and Mary prepared was fit for royalty. Adele's eyes grew large with anticipation as she spied the little cakes and sweets. My heart was full as I sat by Edward nibbling on a sandwich. A lull in the conversation let me hear the sound of a carriage coming down the lane.
"Who is arriving?" asked Edward, also hearing the sound. He turned his face to the door which was open in order to let in any breezes. Although the day had indeed cleared, the threat of rain still hung over us so we decided to sup indoors.
In walked Diana and Mary! I was so surprised I bounded up to embrace them.
"Who is it? Who is here?" Edward asked over and over.
"My cousins, Diana and Mary Rivers," I answered showing them to chairs.
"We meant to come for the ceremony," Mary gushed. "We set off as soon as we got your letter but one of the carriage wheels came off and we had to wait for the repairs."
"You are here now, that is all that matters. Let me introduce you to my husband. Edward Fairfax Rochester, this is Miss Diana Rivers and her younger sister, Mary. Misses Rivers were so good to take me in when I was ill and nursed me back to health." I indicated the others. "This is Miss Adele Verans, Mr. Rochester's ward, this is Mrs. Fairfax, our housekeeper, John, the stableman and handyman, Mary, his wife who helps with the housekeeping. The priest who officiated at our wedding, Father Luke." I sat down letting the others engage the Misses Rivers in conversation. At one point I asked Diana if she had heard from her brother.
"He is well enough from his last letter. It seems that he has flourished in the tropics and relishes his work with the native peoples."
"St. John is not married?"
"No, not at the present. Perhaps he will meet another missionary, he does speak of other missionaries, one is a brother and sister and the sister is unmarried."
"I hope so for his sake he finds the companion he deserves."
"We brought your trunk with us," Mary said. "It is in the carriage, it has all your books and sketch pads in it."
"Thank you, I did not think of my things."
"You had other more important events to worry about," Diana said with a smile.
"I did, indeed, " I answered taking Edward's hand in mine.
My eyes filled with tears as I gazed at the group before me. These people were my family, they cared about me. I slipped a hand into Edward's hand. He squeezed it back. I was finally home.
Within a few months I knew I was with child. Upon my urging Edward traveled to London to the best eye doctors in order to ascertain if anything could be done about his eyes. One of the surgeons was able to open the swollen eye so that he had both eyes open. The ability to see was not increased but he was able to see more shapes than before.
He returned after another round of doctors. I busied myself getting him tea. Although Mrs. Fairfax was the housekeeper, she was getting on in age and I helped her whenever I could.
I put the teacup into Edward's hand and sat down next to him.
"At least I will not have to go back to London for a time," he said taking a sip of his tea. Marriage changed him. His demeanor was no longer rough but softened and even the scars on his face began to fade. Smiling seemed to strengthen the corner of his mouth so that it drooped less, unless he was tired.
"That is good," I said.
"What is it, Mrs. Rochester? I fear you are keeping a secret from me." I could not fool Edward, he was atuned to the nuances in my voice.
"I am with child, Edward. Our first born."
The teacup shattered as it hit the floor. Edward enveloped me into his arms laughing and crying all at the same time.
"You are sure, my love?"
"As sure as a woman can be. In the spring we will have a child."
"A boy?" he asked.
"Or a girl," I answered. I lay in his arms content with my world as I never thought I could be.
"You must write to Adele and tell her the happy news," he said. "She will like to have a little sister or brother to fuss over."
"I shall do it today. And if it is not too much of a burden, I wish to bring her back to England to attend school here. She will be happier I believe and she can come home more often to see us."
"If that is your wish, my dear. I will attend to it."
We brought Adele back to England and ensconced her in a school not far from Millcote. She happily adjusted to her new surroundings and relished having a "real English education" as she put it. She was able to come home to the cottage whenever she felt the least amount of homesickness, and go back to school with a settled heart. I felt that in time her little French affectations would be lessened. Already she peeped at herself less in the mirror than she had when we were at Thornfield. For a time I entertained the idea of being her governess again but I soon dissuaded myself of that notion. Caring for Edward, being his eyes and soon a babe would take up all of my time, of that I was sure. No, it was better that she go back to her school and obtain her English education from others than myself.
In the spring, as I had planned, a child was born to us. Our firstborn was a son. And thanks to the miracle of the doctors in London, Edward could now see a little out of one eye. He held our son in his arms, peering at the tiny face. His eyes so like his father's, large, brilliant and black, although baby's eyes change as they grow older, in this instance I knew they would not.
"I should like to name him after my dear Uncle John, well, both Uncle John Reed and Uncle John Eyre, if that is to your liking, Edward."
"John Edward Fairfax Eyre Rochester, welcome to our family," Edward whispered to the babe. The child seemed to understand what he said looking up into his father's eyes. In his hand Edward held a small gold cross. He fastened it around our son's neck kissing the top of his head.