Okay, so this chapter took a ridiculously long time to upload- sorry! I was really busy and also having a little bit of writer's block. This chapter's also a lot longer than the previous ones... Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and merry Christmas!
When I awoke- at last at a decent hour, I judged from John and Mary's activity- I dressed as hurriedly as I could. I was about to leave my room and find Mary when, hand on the door, I stopped cold, a repressed, anxious fear rising in my breast.
God, I thought- what if it had been a dream? Indeed, it had seemed real enough, but all of last night was a ghost, a memory stamped forever in my mind, the reality of which was fading quickly.
One thing was certain. If indeed my Jane's sudden return last night had been a dream, that knowledge would crush what little of myself I had left. The effects of my heart's fantasies would devastate my soul; surely to the point of death.
Either way, I could not delay any longer. I unclosed the door and called, 'Mary?'
She entered my presence with hasty footsteps and a quiet, 'Yes, sir?'
'Is Miss Eyre here?' Having uttered the question, I felt dreadful anxiety at both the possible 'no' and the knowledge that if she was not here, Mary and John would surely think me utterly mad. The former matter was of course more pressing, but I still retained a small amount of my pride and could not bear to be pitied.
'Yes, sir.' Her affirmative response caught me off guard: I had been subconsciously preparing for the worst, attempting to ready my heart in any way possible for the crushing blow that I feared would issue from her lips.
When I was sure I had heard her right, relief washed over me, overpowering any other feelings for a moment. I cleared my throat and began to ask after her.
'Which room did you put her in? Was it dry?' I was answered in due course and instructed Mary, 'Go up and see if she wants anything, and when she will come down.'
'Yes, sir,' she said softly, and I detected an edge of laughter in her voice, which I ignored.
She departed and I moved to the small sitting room and sat to wait for her. She did not come down for some time, and I was lost in thoughts and memories as I waited.
'It is a bright, sunny morning, sir,' a vivacious, cheerful voice spoke suddenly from the utter silence. 'The rain is over and gone, and there is a tender shining after it: you shall have a walk soon.'
I beamed, a delighted smile lifting my lips.
'Oh, you are indeed there, my skylark! Come to me. You are not gone: not vanished? I heard one of your kind an hour ago, singing high over the wood: but its song had no music for me, any more than the rising sun had rays. All the melody on earth is concentrated in my Jane's tongue to me ear (I am glad it is not naturally a silent one), all the sunshine I can feel is in her presence.'
She was quiet for a moment, but soon busied herself with preparing breakfast.
We took a long walk outside in the fresh, open air. Janet took my arm and guided me about, describing everything in such vivid detail that I did not have reason to long for my lost sight. I marveled at the life and strength her touch gave me, her little hand pressing my arm; I wondered at the comfort her soft voice brought, soothing my shattered heart and mending it slowly. I could have continued like this forever, putting off the discussions that, though necessary, were sure to bring pain.
After we had been walking for a time, she found us a spot to rest; a dry stump hidden in the wood- quite a beautiful place, she told me. She guided me to the seat and yielded immediately to my attempt to place her on my knee. I knew that, for the moment at least, both of us were happier near than apart. Pilot, who had followed us, lay down beside us and all was silent for a time.
But my curiosity far outweighed my ability to be content, and I at last addressed that which had been so far most stubbornly avoided.
'Cruel, cruel deserter!' I cried, holder her beloved form tightly. 'Oh, Jane, what did I feel when I discovered you had fled from Thornfield, and when I could nowhere find you; and, after examining your apartment, ascertained that you had taken no money, nor anything which could serve as an equivalent! A pearl necklace I had given you lay untouched in its little casket; your trunks were left corded and locked as they had been prepared for the bridal tour. What could my darling do, I asked, left destitute and penniless? And what did she do? Let me hear now.' And so I finally heard what had become of my poor Janet in her absence.
She had suffered much, I mused as she recounted three days of wandering, of no food, of sleeping on the ground; she suffered more so, I believe, than she revealed to me. Her three days of wandering had been hard indeed, and, despite the immense pain her tale caused me, it was reassuring to hear everything told in such detail as it was: I did not have so much imagination that this could be my own dream.
I was shocked and pleased to find that those who had saved her life by taking her in were her relations. The warmth and love in her voice when she spoke of her new cousins, Diana, Mary, and St John was evident. This St John's name, however, appeared far more than I should have liked it to, and never did Jane speak an ill word of him. When she had finished her account, I could not but inquire about him directly.
'This St John, then, is your cousin?'
'You have spoken of him often: do you like him?' I asked directly. Her reply, however, maddeningly did not match the blunt nature of my question.
'He was a good man, sir; I could not help liking him.'
'A good man. Does that mean a respectable well- conducted man of fifty? Or what does it mean?' I said, voicing my personal hopes in regard to his age and character.
'St John was only twenty- nine, sir.' I sighed. Of course he was: luck was ever- absent from my life.
'"Jeune encore," as the French say. Is he a person of low stature, phlegmatic, and plain. A person whose goodness consists rather in his guiltlessness of vice, than in his prowess in virtue.'
'He is untiringly active. Great and exalted deeds are what he lives to perform.' I was determined, now, to find out some reason, some last chance of hope that I could ever hope to compete with this new cousin for my Jane's affections.
'But his brain? That is rather soft? He means well: but you shrug your shoulders to hear him talk?' This inquiry did not bring a favorable response either.
'He talks little, sir: what he does say is ever to the point. His brain is first- rate, I should think not impressible, but vigorous.'
'Is he an able man, then?'
'Truly able, sir.' Although I detected the teasing in her voice, her words cut me to the core, for I was no longer an able man.
'A thoroughly educated man?'
'St John is an accomplished and profound scholar.'
'His manners, I think, you said are not to your taste? –priggish and parsonic?'
'I never mentioned his manners; but, unless I had very bad taste, they must suit it; they are polished, calm, and gentlemanlike.' I was beginning to lose all hope; I heard the soft, playful notes in her voice but could not but be melancholy, though she was only teasing me.
'His appearance, -I forget what description you gave of his appearance; - a sort of raw curate, half strangled with his white neckcloth, and stilted up on his thick- soled high- lows, eh?'
'St John dresses well. He is a handsome man: tall fair, with blue eyes, and a Grecian profile.'
'Damn him!' I muttered to myself- I could not help it. 'Did you like him, Jane?' I asked quietly.
'Yes, Mr Rochester, but you asked me that before.'
'Perhaps you would rather not sit any longer on my knee, Miss Eyre?' I blurted suddenly. I couldn't bear to hold my Jane as I did now if she belonged to another. She is not your Jane anymore, you fool, a voice in my head whispered. The thought struck me almost physically, knocking the breath out of me and crushing my soul under the weight of suddenly absent hope.
'Why not, Mr Rochester?'
'The picture you have drawn is suggestive of a rather too overwhelming contrast. Your words have delineated very prettily a graceful Apollo: he is present to your imagination, - tall, fair, blue-eyed, and with a Grecian profile. Your eyes dwell on a Vulcan,' I spat the word, cursing my own body. '- a real blacksmith, brown, broad- shouldered: and blind and lame into the bargain.'
Jane, naturally, chose to ignore most of my speech. 'I never thought of it, before: but you are rather like Vulcan, sir.'
'Well, you may leave me, ma'am: but before you go,' I held her closer, memorizing how she felt before she left, 'you will be pleased just to answer me a question or two.' I paused, lost in thought.
'What questions, Mr Rochester?' Jane said cheerfully, pulling me from my reverie.
'St John made you schoolmistress of Morton before he knew you were his cousin?'
'You would often see him? He would visit the school sometimes?'
'He would approve of your plans, Jane? I know they would be clever, for you are a talented creature!'
'He approved of them- yes.'
'He would discover many things in you he could not have expected to find? Some of your accomplishments are not ordinary.' I f she was, as I believed she was, to marry this man, I hoped he deserved her. I prayed that he valued her half as much as I did.
'I don't know about that.' Anger rose up inside me briefly at the knowledge that this St John did not lavish on her the praise she deserved.
'You had a little cottage near the school, you say: did he ever come there to see you?'
'Now and then.'
'Of an evening?'
'Once or twice.' I paused again.
'How long did you reside with him and his sisters after the cousinship was discovered?'
'Did Rivers spend much time with the ladies of his family?'
'Yes; the back parlour was both his study and our: he sat near the winder, and we by the table.'
'Did he study much?'
'A good deal.'
'Hindostanee.' How strange.
'And what did you do meantime?'
'I learnt German, at first.'
'Did he teach you?'
'He did not understand German.'
'He did not understand German.'
'Did he teach you nothing?'
'A little Hindostanee.' The answer was not, of course, one to my liking; it presented too many other questions.
'Rivers taught you Hindostanee?'
'And his sisters also?'
'Did you ask to learn?'
'No.' She seemed determined to make me do all the work, and give no more information at each question than was absolutely necessary.
'He wished to teach you?'
'Why did he wish it? Of what use could Hindostanee be to you?'
'He intended me to go with him to India,' she said, and I detected a hint of false innocence in her voice, suggesting that the indignation the implication aroused me to was exactly what she wished. I reciprocated by masking my dismay completely.
'Ah! here I reach the root of the matter. He wanted you to marry him?'
'He asked me to marry him.'
'That is a fiction- an impudent invention to vex me.' She was indeed capable of such a tale.
'I beg your pardon, it is the literal truth: he asked me more than once, and was as stiff about urging his point as ever you could be.'
'Miss Eyre, I repeat it, you can leave me. How often am I to say the same thing? Why do you remain pertinaciously perched on my knee, when I have given you notice to quit?' I asked her, ignoring the terror that accompanied my own words.
'Because I am comfortable there.'
'No, Jane,' I said, resigning myself once again to my fate, but resolving to speak, for once, my true feelings. 'You are not comfortable there, because your heart is not with me: it is with this cousin- this St John. Oh, till this moment, I thought my little Jane was all mine! I had a belief she loved me even when she left me: that was an atom of sweet in much bitter. Long as we have been parted, hot tears as I have wept over our separation, I never thought that while I was mourning her, she was loving another But it is useless grieving. Jane leave me: go and marry Rivers.'
'Shake me off, then, sir,- push me away, for I'll not leave you of my own accord,' was the rather unexpected and comfortingly piquant reply.
'Jane, I ever like your tone of voice: it still renews hope, it sounds so truthful. When I hear it, it carries me back a year. I forget that you have formed a new tie. But I am not a fool- go-'
'Where must I go, sir?'
'You own way- with the husband you have chosen.'
'Who is that?' Goodness, she did not used to be so slow; though it occurred to me she was teasing me again.
'You know- this St John Rivers.'
'He is not my husband,' she said, her voice becoming more serious, 'nor ever will be. He does not love me: I do not love him. He loves (as he can love, and that is not as you love) a beautiful young lady called Rosamond. He wanted to marry me only because he thought I should make a suitable missionary's wife, which she would not have done. He is good and great, but severe; and, for me, cold as an iceberg.' Yet, what she had just described- coldness and severity- was an exact depiction of myself before my little fairy crossed my path. If she had not been able to save him as she had saved me, I imagined that there was no hope for the poor fellow. 'He is not like you, sir: I am not happy at his side, nor near him, nor with him. He has no indulgence for me- no fondness. He sees nothing attractive in me; not even youth- only a few useful mental points.- Then must I leave you, sir, to go to him?'
I felt her shudder at the thought and she held me closer. I beamed at her instinctive wish to be close to me.
'What, Jane! Is this true? Is such really the state of matters between you and Rivers?'
'Absolutely, sir! Oh, you need not be jealous! I wanted to tease you a little to make you less sad: I thought anger would be better than grief. But if you wish me to love you, could you but see how much I do love you, you would be proud and content. All my heart is your, sir: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence for ever.'
This speech set my soul aflame with fresh, life giving, hopeful fire, and I kissed her; but as I did so I remembered the sad affair that was my physical self.
'My seared vision! My crippled strength!' I murmured, regretful.
She caressed me, but spoke not, even when, turning my head away, I allowed a single tear to slide down my cheek.
'I am no better than the old lightning- struck chestnut- tree in Thornfield orchard,' I mused after a length of silence. 'And what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?'
'You are no ruin, sir- no lightning- struck tree: you are green and vigorous. Plants will grow around your roots, whether you ask them or not, because they take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop.'
Nothing could comfort me like my Janet: I smiled.
'You speak of friends, Jane?'
'Yes, of friends,' she answered, and the hesitation in her voice restored the hope that her words had stolen.
'Ah! Jane. But I want a wife.'
'Do you, sir?'
'Yes: is it news to you?'
'Of course: you said nothing about it before.'
'Is it unwelcome news?'
'That depends on circumstances, sir- on your choice.'
'Which you shall make for me, Jane. I will abide by your decision.'
'Choose then, sir- her who loves you best.'
As I was no judge of that, I said, 'I will at least choose- her I love best. Jane, will you marry me?'
'Yes, sir.' I suppressed the joy that was rising in my heart.
'A poor blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand?'
'A crippled man, twenty years older than you, whom you will have to wait on?' I nearly shuddered at my own words, cringing inwardly at the things that marred me.
'Most truly, sir.'
'Oh! my darling! God bless you and reward you!'
'Mr Rochester, if ever I did a good deed in my life- if ever I thought a good thought- if ever I prayed a sincere and blameless prayer- if ever I wished a righteous wish,- I am rewarded now. To be your wife is, for me, to be as happy as I can be on earth.'
'Because you delight in sacrifice.'
'Sacrifice!' she exclaimed almost indignantly. 'What do I sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. To be privileged to put my arms round what I value- to press my lips to what I love- to repose on what I trust: is that to make a sacrifice? If so, then certainly I delight in sacrifice.'
'And to bear with my infirmities, Jane: to overlook my deficiencies.'
'Which are none, sir, to me,' she said, and her words gave me immense comfort; though I supposed it would be some time before I could fully believe her. 'I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector.'
'Hitherto I have hated to be helped- to be led: henceforth, I feel I shall hate it no more. I did not like to put my hand into a hireling's, but it is pleasant to feel it circled by Jane's little fingers, I preferred utter loneliness to the constant attendance of servants; but Jane's soft ministry will be a perpetual joy. Jane suits me: do I suit her?'
'To the finest fibre of my nature, sir.' I heard accents of truth and happiness in her tone: it pleased me to know that I made her happy.
'The case being so, we have nothing in the world to wait for: we must be married instantly.' I was eager now, a much so as I had been a year since. This time, however, it was not that frenzied hurry to be married before my wife was discovered: no, now it was pure, honest excitement.
'We must become one flesh without any delay, Jane: there is but the license to get- then we marry.'
'Mr Rochester, I have just discovered the sun is far declined from its meridian, and Pilot Is actually gone home to his dinner. Let me look at your watch.'
'Fasten it into your girdle, Janet, and keep it henceforward: I have no use for it.'
'It is nearly four o'clock in the afternoon, sir. Don't you feel hungry?'
'The third day from this must be our wedding- day, Jane. Never mind fine clothes and jewels, now: all that is not worth a fillip.'
'The sun has dried up all the rain- drops, sir. The breeze is still: it is quite hot.'
I continued my rambling without heeding her (had not she done the same to me on many occasions?) 'Do you know, Jane, I have your little pearl necklace at this moment fastened round my bronze scrag under my cravat? I have worn it since the day I lost my only treasure, as a memento of her.'
'We will go home through the wood: that will be the shadiest way.' We were now engrossed in entirely separate monologues.
'Jane! you think me, I daresay, an irreligious dog: but my heart swells with gratitude to the beneficent God of this earth just now. He sees not as man sees, but far clearer: judges not as man judges, but far more wisely. I did wrong: I would have sullied my innocent flower- breathed guilt on its purity: the Omnipotent snatched it from me. I, in my stiff- necked rebellion, almost cursed the dispensation: instead of bending to the decree, I defied it. Divine justice pursued its course; disasters came thick on me: I was forced to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. His chastisements are mighty; and one smote me which has humbled me for ever. You know I was proud of my strength: but what is it now, when I must give it over to foreign guidance, as a child does its weakness? Of late, Jane- only of late- I began so see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere.
'Some days since: nay, I can number them- four; it was last Monday night, a singular mood came over me: one in which grief replaced frenzy- sorrow, sullenness. I had long had the impression that since I could nowhere find you, you must be dead, Late that night- perhaps it might be between eleven and twelve o'clock- ere I retired to my dreary rest, I supplicated to God that, if it seemed good to Him, I might soon be taken from this life, and admitted to that world to come, where there was still hope of rejoining Jane.
'I was in my own room, and sitting by the window, which was open: it soothed me to feel the balmy night- air; though I could see no stars and only by a vague, luminous haze, knew the presence of a moon. I longed for thee, Janet! Oh, I longed for thee both with soul and flesh! I asked of God, at once in anguish and humility, if I had not been long enough desolate, afflicted, tormented; and might not soon taste bliss and peace once more. That I merited all I endured, I acknowledged- that I could scarcely endure more, I pleaded; and the alpha and omega of my heart's wishes broke involuntarily from my lips in the words- 'Jane! Jane! Jane!'
'Did you speak these words aloud?' she asked quietly.
'I did, Jane. If any listener had heard me, he would have thought me mad: I pronounced them with such frantic energy.'
'And it was last Monday night, somewhere near midnight?'
'Yes; but the time is of no consequence: what followed is the strange point. You will think me superstitious,- some superstition I have in my blood, and always had: nevertheless, this is true- true at least it is that I heard what I now relate.'
I had some trepidation about relating to her the strange occurrence, but remembered that we were soon to be married, and I ought to tell her. Indeed, I could hardly imagine her being so disturbed by it that it could change anything.
'As I exclaimed "Jane! Jane! Jane!" a voice- I cannot tell whence the voice came, but I know whose voice it was- replied, "I am coming: wait for me;" and a moment after, went whispering on the wind the words- "Where are you?"
'I'll tell you, if I can, the idea, the picture these words opened to my mind: yet it is difficult to express what I want to express. Ferndean is buried, as you see, in a heavy wood, where sound falls dull, and dies reverberating. "Where are you?" seemed spoken amongst mountains; for I heard a hill- sent echo repeat the words. Cooler and fresher at the moment the gale seemed to visit my brow: I could have deemed that in some wild, lone scene, I and Jane were meeting. In spirit, I believe we must have met. You no doubt were, at that hour, in unconscious sleep, Jane: perhaps your soul wandered from its cell to comfort mine; for those were your accents- as certain as I live- they were yours!'
She said nothing, and silence continued for a short period. Had she not been enveloped in my arms- had I not been able to touch her, her muteness would have terrified me to the core. My blindness still made me unsure of her reality: when I could not hear her, she had disappeared once again into the night.
I roused myself from my musings and continued thus: 'You cannot now wonder that when you rose upon me so unexpectedly last night, I had difficulty in believing you any other than a mere voice and vision, something that would melt into silence and annihilation, as the midnight whisper and mountain echo had melted before. Now, I thank God! I know it to be otherwise. Yes, I thank God!' I removed her off of my knee and rose; taking off my hat, I bent my useless eyes to the ground.
I then uttered, if not aloud, then at least fervently, the most sincere prayer my heart had ever been willing to give; I stood in silent reverence, giving thanks where thanks was due.
'I thank my Maker, that, in the midst of judgment, he has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto!' I ended my prayer aloud, and gave Jane my hand. She pressed it to her lips and then passed it round her shoulder. I remembered the first time I ever met her: the fresh life that her touch had given me then still stole into my frame as I put my arm round her shoulders. We reentered the wood and my Janet guided me home.