Disclaimer: Not mine. Obviously.
After retiring for the evening, I found my thoughts were still with my erstwhile Master. He had seemed strange this evening, asking me to stay in conversation long past Adele's bedtime. And yet, he spoke of little of consequence. It could not be my conversation that he desired – for had he not said that I had seen little of the world? Perhaps he found my quiet listening pleasing.
I slept, at last, but it seemed only for a few moments before a strange scratching at my door woke me. My first thought was of Pilot, who had only lately taken to leaving his Master's door in the middle of the night and coming to mine. So, with little trepidation, I opened the portal and looked beyond. The dog was not there, nor was there anyone else. Looking up and down the long hallway, I could see Mrs. Fairfax's door, and Leah's. Beyond them, however, the hallway led to Mr. Rochester's chambers. I should not have been able to see beyond Leah's door at that time of night, but a lit candle was upon the floor that illuminated the corridor. In its light, I could see smoke trickling from one of the doors. I bolted from my room with no thought of fetching my robe – a fire once started could easily consume the whole house. Snatching my pitcher from my dressing-room table, I fairly ran to the door – Mr. Rochester's.
I knocked once before opening the door, fearing him dead or incapacitated by smoke. Indeed, he was slumbering in his bed, with no thought to the flames that surrounded him. I dashed the pitcher of water on the flames that were nearest him, crying his name. I shook his shoulder, but he only murmured, stupefied by the fumes. Choking on the smoke, I snatched his pitcher and ewer in turn, throwing their contents on the flames. It was almost enough. The few small flames that remained were easily smothered by the coverlet I snatched from the bed.
Coughing, I stood over the man in the bed, who only now began to wake. I shook his arm, concerned to remove him from the smoke. Almost, I had left to wake Mrs. Fairfax and John, when he finally stirred and rose.
"What is it? Who is it?" he said, now coughing smoke from his lungs.
"It is Jane, sir, and you had best be up out of the wet. You have nearly been burnt in your bed, and you cannot too soon discover who is responsible."
"Jane," he said, standing, though clearly still dazed, "What has happened? A fire? A flood?" He was soaked through with water, as was I.
"I shall fetch a candle, sir," I said, turning.
"Wait just a moment," he said, and I paused. He was in his nightshirt only, no more dressed for this than I was. I waited until he had found his trousers, and left to fetch the candle from the hall while he pulled them on.
When I returned, he took the candle from my hand without and word, and turned to survey the damage. It was frightening, even now extinguished. The bed dress was black with soot, the curtains singed nearly to the roof. It was easy to see how narrow had been his escape.
His face darkened, but I thanked God that I had woken, for surely he would have died, and perhaps the rest of the household as well, had I not discovered the flames in time.
"Jane," he said, "Who has done this?"
"I do not know, sir," I said, "I was woken by a strange laugh, and when I came into the hall, I found a candle burning and smoke coming from your chambers."
"You saw no-one?"
I nodded. "Shall I fetch Mrs. Fairfax? Or Leah and John?"
"No, what the deuce could they do?"
I coughed, for the smoke lingered, harsh and taxing to the lungs. Looking me over, he took my arm, and escorted me to his private sitting room. He snatched his riding cloak where it lay over a chair when we passed.
Wrapping me up in the cloak, he pushed me down into a wing-back chair. I felt rather like a child playing make-believe, for both chair and cloak were designed with a much larger frame than mine in mind. I was grateful for the cloak, for the chill and the wet seemed to sink into my bones, a harsh reminder of my childhood privations.
"Jane," said Mr. Rochester, "I must… investigate these events. Wait here for me, and wake no one."
"Yes, sir," I said, mystified, but content to snuggle in the warm cloak. "You will be careful?" I asked, and I knew my eyes were wide with fright.
"Yes," he replied; his countenance harsh in the light from the single candle he still held.
Rochester had been still confused by smoke when he led the little governess to his private sitting room. She was shaking with cold, and fighting not to choke on the smoke that still filled the room. His heart thumped in his chest to think how narrow had been this escape. Jane – if she had not found him in time, he would have been dead, and perhaps the rest of the house would have followed. Once Jane was settled in his chair, and wrapped up warm in his cloak, he walked the rest of the house. It was not the first time that … she … had set fires. Usually, he was the only target, but his heart trembled at the thought that she might have set such a fire in Adele's chambers. He practically ran to the child's room, and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her sleeping peacefully under her coverlet.
Next, he checked on Dame Fairfax, and the rest of the staff, before turning to the third storey, where he knew the trouble lay. "Grace," he muttered, angrily pacing to the hidden chamber. Throwing aside the tapestry, he opened the door. It was unlocked, as he had known it would be. Well he knew what he would find within – horror and madness.
Grace was unharmed, merely overcome by drink. He restrained - her - and roused Grace from her stupor, enough to impress upon her the penalties for failure if she should lower her guard in such a way again. "Jane," he thought, "It could have been Jane, or Adele," and his blood froze in his marrow. In that moment, he wanted to take them both far away from Thornfield – to Ferndean, or the Continent, anywhere but this cursed manse where danger stalked the halls.
He hurried, now, to return to Jane. He had left her alone, in the dark, without any candle. He had not even ascertained if she was uninjured before dashing off to see to culprit under lock and key. It had been necessary, but his heart burned in his chest at the thought of Jane in harm. How strange that the little governess had so quickly assumed a place in his heart. Strange, and yet, right in a way that he had never experienced, and he was a man accustomed to passion. He was a man of quick and ready passions, was Rochester, but this governess, this mere slip of a girl, made him wish for things he had not thought of in many years. Home, and family, and a purity of affection that he had long thought could not exist in this or any other world. In his dark and withered heart, green shoots and leaves seemed now to be emerging, as if finding good soil after a long winter.
He half-expected that Jane would have returned to her own chambers, but she was still sitting his chair, curled up under his cloak. Her eyes were drowsy, and he almost hated to wake her.
"Jane," he said, gently touching her shoulder.
"Sir?" she said, her eyes opening fully. "Have you found it out?"
"I have," he said, "All is revealed."
"It is of no consequence," he said, biting his tongue before he revealed the truth to wide green eyes that held much of youth, and much of innocence that he found he could not bear to tarnish.
"Will you be safe?"
"Oh, yes," he replied, "Have no fear on that account. Return to your bed, Jane, I will answer for tonight's events."
"Yes, sir," she said, uncurling from the chair. She removed his cloak, and began to walk past him. He could not endure her quiet departure.
"Jane," he said, "Are you leaving me without a word? You have saved my life, saved me from a horrible death. At least, at least shake hands!" He held out his own, strong, brown fingers.
She placed her delicate digits within his grasp. He clasped them warmly, halting at a pained sigh of breath from her. Was his touch distasteful? He wondered, examining her countenance. No, her face was tight with discomfort. He opened his clasp, and led her near the candle so he could see what caused her exclamation. Her hands, slender, delicate, like a child's in his large ones, were red and blistered. He hissed to see the marks, and swore at himself for not realizing she was injured.
"Jane," he said. "Why didn't you tell me you were hurt?"
"It seemed of no moment, truly," she said, "It does not hurt, at least, not very much,"
"Sit here," he commanded, pressing her down onto a stool before his vanity. He strode quickly to the wardrobe, and opened several drawers with the surety of one who knows what he seeks. He pulled a bundle from within, and returned to her side. He poured a glass of sherry for her from the decanter at his elbow, and unrolled the bundle as she watched. He could not but be aware of the way her bright green eyes followed his hands, or examined his face as if to pull his life's story from his lips.
Almost without meaning to, he began to speak of his time in Istanbul, where a Moorish physician had tended him when he was sick with fever. The man had been contemptuous of Western medicine, and had given him a parcel of medicines and tonics, with instructions for their use. Any man who traveled to the places Rochester traveled would need such supplies often, so he had said. And the physician had not been wrong.
Rochester removed a small jar of salve from one pocket, and a roll of bandages from another. Taking Jane's hands in turn, he gently began to smooth salve over the red and angry burns. She gasped at his touch, and tears started in her eyes at the pain, but it was quickly soothed by the balm he spread.
"Thank you," she murmured, watching his hands move with surety over her injuries.
"It is the least I could do," he said, huskily, "After you have saved my life,"
"There is no debt," she said, meeting his eyes. His hands slowed at their task.
"I am indebted, Miss Eyre, though I count it no burden to be indebted to you. I knew from the first moment I met you that I… that you would do me good, as indeed you have."
She blushed prettily, and her eyes returned to following his hands as he carefully bandaged hers.
"In the morning, you should wash them carefully," he said, "Do not worry about rising to teach Adele, sleep as much as you can."
"I do not think I can sleep after this," she said.
He glanced at her eyes, which were dark and tired. She needed to sleep, both because hers had been interrupted, and because she would heal more quickly.
"I can help with that," he said, taking another vial from the pouch, he tupped a few grains of a dark powder into her wine glass. Swirling it gently, he held it out to her. She whimpered as she tried to close her fingers around the stem. He pulled it away, pushing her hands down to her lap. "Allow me," he said, his eyes dark with emotion. Holding the glass to her lips, he watched her sip until the wine was gone.
"Good," he said. "Now, to bed with you."
He held out his hand, and helped her to her feet. She wavered, for the drug was quickly taking effect. He steadied her with a hand on her elbow, then, with a quiet laugh, he scooped her up in his arms. She curled against him, her face tucked in the hollow of his throat as she gave in to sleep. He carried her to her own room, astonished that she weighed so little. She was such a tiny thing, to have saved his life and captured his heart as she did. He made a note to himself that he must ensure that she was fed, and received regular meals. She was so small, and seemed frail now curled in his arms, for all her strength of will in her waking hours.
He tucked into her own bed, as carefully as if she had been Adele. Greatly daring, he placed a chaste kiss on her brow before retiring to his own rooms. He sat at his vanity, staring into his reflection, thinking of the changes of heart now upon him.
When Jane woke, she could not recall how she had gotten to her bed, nor why it seemed strange that she should have done so. And there was the memory, outlandish though it was, of being carried in strong arms, and of lips pressed gently to her brow.