A dusting of snow fell in thick flakes, and the busy streams of people in the streets only served to increase the tumbling dance of the crystal white. The narrow road proved uncommonly dark but for the lantern light, as the afternoon sun hid behind the clouds and twilight came on. In the growing dark, it seemed more and more that no one had a face. All details seemed to smudge into the shadows and the snow: bodies skirting each other into the night, avoiding intimacies.
Jane wandered in the crowd, head low, her bonnet damp from the falling air and her cloak coated with a layer of white. Her face, too thin, too pale, appeared sallow in the fading light. She looked ill. Her fingers gripped at nothing as she walked, her tiny boots sorrowfully sodden and muddy.
She looked pitiable enough. Yet, her face bore a blankness to it that denied pity. She had chosen this way: she, herself. Pity was unnecessary. There was no spark in her eye as she made her way through the crowd. She kept her eyes low and her mouth tightly shut, as if she feared breath or speech would burst her carefully maintained demeanor. No pity. No remorse. Only self-respect. Only self-denial. She had embraced the height of stoicism: utterly, freezing her tender little heart to keep it safe.
The crowds thinned slightly. The shadows deepened.
Jane dared to raise her eyes. The sea of faces still seemed blank and cool. No friend. No help.
She'd left all warmth behind at the hearth-his hearth, where he had thrown himself down on his knees before her, pleading, weeping, raging. He had spoken so convincingly.
Who in the world have you? You have no friends or family to care if you should live with me. Think on it, Jane. I love you more than my own flesh. I have risked it all to have you. I would dare hell and death. I would dare the devil himself. You are all that I desire. I have said it before: I think you good, gifted, lovely. You enchant my heart. You...you are beautiful, Jane. You cannot know how I desire you. I must have you, or my heart will not bear it. Do you see how it is? I cannot...I must not live without you. My darling! My dearest!
He had attempted to extend his arms to her then from where he stood at the hearth, blocking the way to the door. At that movement of his arms, she, a few feet from him, had stiffened. The temptation was poison, delicious and deadly. The sweetness of his love would sour when she was no longer Jane Eyre, when she became his empty shell of a mistress. She had to preserve herself; she had to love herself; she had to love God. But O she loved him; he had become her god; she saw that. And she was to deny the idol and forgo the pleasure. She had told herself such. At the sight of his outstretched arms, she had set her jaw, and a flicker of blank resolve crossed her features. That blank expression had broken him from sentiment to rage. He had flown to her side then, wrapped his arms around her, forcing her frame against his. He had thrown her a flaming glance before he kissed her mouth, trying to soften it from its stony frown. He had tried cruelly to awaken her, roughly grasping her face with his hand, still holding her with his other arm. For a moment, her mouth had softened, and he had felt the first shiver and sign of victory. In those few seconds, she had moaned softly, a ghost of a tear lingering under her eyelash. But then her resolve had won. And he sensed it. Pulling back but not releasing her, he had seen it in her face.
O Never was anything at once so frail and yet so indomitable. You are but a reed in my hand. O Jane.
That fire had been forsaken. She now wandered in the winter of her own soul. Such a bitter winter.
Jane flickered her gaze through the crowd.
A flash of a face.
No, it could not be.
She stopped, her heart pounding. For a moment the crowd parted.
And Rochester strode grimly down the road coming directly towards her.
In her mind, she knew she should run. She should hide. But her body was frozen to the cobblestones beneath her feet.
Then he saw her. His face became alight with joy, pain, sorrow. He called her name, and swiftly moved through the crowd to find her. She felt tears come hot down her cheeks. How had he found her? Now he would never let her go. Now she would never have the strength to leave him. Now he would claim her, and she would let him.
He reached her and swept her into his arms. O she loved him.
"O my little lamb!" He wept into her neck. "Why did you stray?" And he kissed her face and lips ardently.
With a start, Jane bolted up in bed. She trembled in the chill of the night, as she looked around to remind herself of where she was. She was not at Thornfield. She was not in a narrow street. She was in her small cottage beside the school house. Her letter from Diana and Mary sat on the desk in the moonlight, and St John's forgotten walking stick stood by the door. The night was still, and Rochester had vanished.
With a deep sigh, Jane rubbed her temples. The night was so very long.
"Only a dream, Jane," she whispered.