A Long Night
By: Anni Re
Edward Rochester pushed his heels into his horse and urged it into a canter, its long black legs loping across the moor. Night was coming and through the silvery mists the sun was dyed a dark shade of crimson and was slowly sinking into the horizon. Mr. Rochester turned and watched the celestial orb making its descent, never quite taking for granted that he could now see colors and shapes from the eye that had its sight restored to it.
There was a time when he could not have ridden this far and this long without being supervised or frequently checked upon. When his sight was beginning to return to him enough that he expressed the desire to relearn how to ride a horse his wife kept him corralled in the fenced paddock at the end of a lead rope much in the same way he had learned to ride forty years ago when he was a child. Jane, as much his caretaker as she was his wife sat stiffly on the bench just beyond the fence, her eyes trained on her husband as he learned to compensate for his handicap, twitching every time the stallion fell into a trot or Rochester touched it with his crop. But, as the weeks went by Jane's back relaxed into her seat and she brought out with her sewing, her reading, or her sketchbook. Soon, Jane had plenty of drawings of her husband on horseback and Mr. Rochester was released onto the grounds of Thornfield to carry on he had done in his youth and peak of health.
Mr. Rochester reached the crest of a hill and turned his head to look down into the valley within. It had taken several years, but the roof as well as the interior had been repaired. Now, excluding the long black scars burned into the exterior walls, Thornfield was restored. He and Jane moved back into it shortly after their son was born who now occupied the room that served as Adele's nursery when she was a child. Mr. Rochester glanced up at the tower, a place that, more than the rest of the manor, retained the markings of the great fire that killed Mr. Rochester's first wife and robbed him of his sight as well as his left hand. Mr. Rochester and Jane had yet to move anything into what had been Bertha Mason's rooms and, probably for the rest of their lives, they would belong to her ghost.
A cold wind whipped across the moor causing Mr. Rochester to sink into his coat. He urged his horse to a start again and began to return home. Pilot, who had been lying in the long grass since his master came to a halt roused himself and followed. Even though Mr. Rochester could once again ride, he couldn't rise as fast and wantonly reckless as he once could. At one point if Mr. Rochester was taking this speed Pilot would have surged on ahead circling him in a wide circuit periodically barking until Rochester went faster. But, Pilot was an old dog now and contented with the pace.
Night was well upon Mr. Rochester when he arrived at Thornfield. As his horse walked up the drive Mr. Rochester made out from the lights from within the house a carriage parked close to the front doors. Rochester raised his eyebrow that could be lifted, the scarred side of his face still not able to regain the use of most of the muscles and nerves. He did not recall that he and Jane were expecting anyone.
Rochester's own musings immediately gave him the answer. All the breath within his body left him in a rush as he realized the owner of the coach. Rochester kicked his horse harder than he meant to and spurred the animal at a lighting speed to the stables. Mr. Rochester dismounted while the horse was sill in motion and threw the reins to the groom who stood there waiting for him before he turned on his heel and ran back to the house taking the front steps two at a time.
Rochester was at the master bedroom before he realized it and threw open the door. Mrs. Fairfax and the doctor were bustling around the room. The fire in the fireplace was roaring, making the space uncharacteristically warm and cast an ever-changing array of light and shadow across the floor. The bed curtains were open and tied back to the posts. On the bed lied his wife, Jane, her brown tresses fanning out across the white pillows, her arm limply slung over her swollen abdomen.
Jane's eyes were drawn to the sound of Rochester's entrance and even in her tired eyes there appeared a small sparkle upon seeing him. She lifted the arm that was not swung across her body and reached out to him. "Edward," she said softly.
Rochester took several long strides to her and reached out his hand to grasp hers as he knelt down beside the bed. "Jane," he said kissing the top of her hand, salting his lips with her sweat, "sweet Jane. Why did you not send someone for me?"
Jane's breathing was loud and labored as she spoke. "I'd thought I'd surprise you," she responded, "you'd come home for supper and have a baby placed in your arms."
Mr. Rochester gave his wife a half smile before kissing her on her hairline. "You know I'd rather be with you," he whispered, his lips not quite leaving her skin.
Jane ran her fingers across his knuckles. "I know." Jane slightly turned her head and watched with her weary gaze the doctor approaching her. Rochester followed her gaze.
"Well?" he aid, standing, the tips of his fingers still touching the tips of Jane's. "What is it?"
"The baby is not yet ready to be born, sir."
Mr. Rochester sucked in a sharp breath, his face paling. Instinctively and unconsciously, his fingers wrapped around his wife's hand. "I…I don't understand," he stuttered, fearing for the lives of his wife and unborn child. "She's full term. She's laboring. How…"
"Mr. Rochester," interrupted the doctor. "The infant is still high in Mrs. Rochester's womb. Her body is presently guiding it to the birth canal but it will be some time before Mrs. Rochester is ready to be delivered."
Mr. Rochester gained control of his breathing again. "How long?"
"No one can really tell, sir," answered the doctor. "A few hours, maybe longer." The doctor closed his bag and collected his coat, which he had tossed over a chair. "I will remain here until Mrs. Rochester is ready."
Rochester nodded once. "Yes," he said. "Yes. My servants will tend to anything you desire: food, a fire, a spare room is necessary. They are at your disposal."
Thank you, sir," answered the doctor. He turned and nodded at the housekeeper. "Mrs. Fairfax," he said and then he departed the room.
Mr. Rochester also looked at Mrs. Fairfax who stood lingering by the door. "You may go Mrs. Fairfax. Get some sleep while you can. I will tend to her."
"Yes, sir," Mrs. Fairfax answered. As she too left the room she turned and looked over her shoulder and her heart warmed at the sight of what was once such a moody and forlorn man loving and doting on his young bride.
As soon as the door clicked shut Jane spoke. "Edward," she said just as soft spoken as before, "douse the fire or open the window, please. It's so stifling in here I can hardly breathe."
Rochester did both. He scattered the coals and separated the logs with the iron poker and the fire died down. He opened the widow just enough that the cold breeze could circulate around the room without chilling Jane. He returned and once again knelt by the bed. "Is there anything else I can get you?"
"Water," Jane murmured, closing her eyes for a second and wiping the sweat off her brow.
Mr. Rochester reached over to Jane's bedside table for the glass of water that already sat there on a tray next to her porcelain washbasin. Rochester took the glass and lowered the rim to Jane's lips. Jane drank greedily, a drop of water slipping between the corners of her lips and falling down to her chin. When Jane was sated Mr. Rochester traded the glass for the folded piece of cloth lying saturated with water in the washbasin. Rochester wiped the sweat away from Jane's face and collarbone. Gingerly he lifted the back of her head and wiped the perspiration collected at the nape of her neck.
"Thank you, Edward," said Jane as Rochester returned the cloth to the bowl. "Come. Sit on the bed beside me."
Mr. Rochester shook his head. "I don't want to crowd you on this bed while you are delivering our child," he said.
"Edward," said Jane in a tone that took no argument. "I have shared this bed with you every night. I can certainly share a corner with you even if I am delivering our child. It will be a long night and I would like to know you're comfortable."
Mr. Rochester gave his wife a half smile. "If you insist dearest Janet." Mr. Rochester removed his riding jacked and his vest leaving him with just his white shirt. He then moved Jane as carefully as he would handle wet paper and sat on the corner of the bed. Jane leaned back against his side, her head resting on his left shoulder, the attached arm wrapped around her side, his handless wrist resting on the sheets beside her midsection. "Is this alright?"
Jane nodded, her face delving into the cotton of his shirt. "Yes," she whispered. She smiled. I can hear your heartbeat," she said. The hand that still lay across her body gently cupped her stomach. "And I can feel this one's." A moment later head hand tightened into a claw. Her face contorted and through her tightly pressed lips there came a wispy grunt of discomfort.
Mr. Rochester didn't speak a word but reached across himself and ran his fingers through Jane's hair, his other arm tucking it closer to her body. "What I would do to take this pain away from you," he said, "or bear it myself since I had so much pleasure putting this child into your body."
Jane chuckled despite the fact her contraction still gripped her, her eyes shut so tight the corners made crows feet. "I seem to recall some pleasure on my part," she said. "Besides, I hardly remember the pain of bearing John after I had first seen his face."
Jane may not have remembered what she went though that day but Mr. Rochester did. It was noon and in the middle of July in the smaller house on the forested part of Mr. Rochester's estate he had retreated to when Thornfield burned. The master bedroom was much smaller and there was a great congestion of people. All the while Jane moaned and groaned and screamed and moaned again. What made it worse was that Rochester could hardly see any of it. Rochester at that point had regained some of the use of his eyes but there were still great streaks of shadow across his eyesight. It made the whole experience like he was in a waking nightmare. The long shadows that scarred Jane's already agonized face made her look like a sub-human creature and the people that clustered around her with their serious and austere faces took on the forms of goblins and wraiths surrounding his poor, anguished fairy. And the sounds she made without properly seeing her. It was like hearing her dying, or being killed by some malignant force that he was powerless to do anything to stop. And then their son was born, that little ball of light that seemed to push away the shadows. Mr. Rochester had to agree with Jane, seeing his son for the first time and seeing his own likeness reflected back at him diluted the experiences of the day and made them melt away into the recesses of his mind until they were raked up, fresh and poignant, as they were presently. "Yes, Jane," he said, "but you have such a small frame; such a small, slight frame my little fairy." His words drifted off into silence.
Because Jane's mouth had opened her breath came out in harsh ragged gasps. "Edward," she said through her panting. "Distract me, if you can…the pain. Talk to me."
Mr. Rochester's attentions snapped back to his wife, pushing away his repressed memories and his unspoken fears. "What would you like me to talk about?"
"Anything," Jane said, "something we don't often talk about. That usually leads to long conversations." Mr. Rochester felt Jane's body relax, her breath coming out in a long sigh as the pain that ran through her body diminished. "Tell me about the villa on the Mediterranean. You spoke of it so often and I have never seen it. I'm beginning to think it was all a tale you spun to tempt me to stay."
Rochester once again smiled, though Jane could not see it. "It's real Jane, I assure you."
"Describe it to me," Jane said her face once again tucked into her husband's shirt.
"It's a small little thing," Rochester began, "tucked into the coastline; not ever a fourth of the size of Thornfield, with whitewashed walls and a large porch with mosaic tiling over looking the sea as it washes onto rocky shoals."
"What does the sea look like?"
"It's green, though not a green you've ever seen, Jane. Neither the forests, nor the moor can capture its color. It's a green only the sea can create and can only be found in the Mediterranean."
Jane's breathing was slow and even now. I'd like to see a green sea someday," said Jane. "The English seas are so grey. I'd like to see a blue sea too. I hear the seas around Jamaica are blue."
Rochester twisted his head slightly to look at Jane. "You want to go to Jamaica?" he asked skeptically.
Jane nodded into his chest. "Yes. I'd like to replace all you bad memories in Spanishtown with good ones."
Mr. Rochester huffed. "Then we would be there for the rest of our lives, Janet dear. And I don't think I could ever return to Spanishtown, even if it was for your blue seas."
There was a pause in the conversation where Jane took more water from the glass and her husband wetted her forehead. Jane took Mr. Rochester's hand loosely in her own and idly ran her finger across the tips before she spoke again. "Did your mourn her, miss her even, after she died," Bertha Antionetta Mason's name hanging unspoken between them.
"Even though I did not love her I bore her no ill will," said Mr. Rochester. "Yes, I mourned her and gave her all the funerary honors befitting the Mistress of Thornfield for truly she was more the mistress than I the master." Rochester paused. "Does that displease you?"
Jane shook her head. "No, I have more respect for you. You gave her her dignity." Now it was Jane's turn to pause, but when she spoke again her voice was significantly chipper than her precious statement. "Would you object if I asked to name a daughter Antionetta? It's such a pretty name and so exotic."
Mr. Rochester didn't know how to respond to his wife's query so he settled upon neutrality in his tone. "I would object unless you absolutely insisted Jane. Doesn't her shadow hang over us enough?"
Jane thought of the still vacant rooms just above the battlements. "I suppose so," she said quietly. "It's a pity that she died."
"You pity the death of the one person that kept us from being married and drove you away from me?" Rochester tilted his head and kissed Jane's hair, smelling her scent. "You are either as mad as she was or goodlier than any saint." Mr. Rochester paused and spoke softer. "I am not as good as you are Jane," he said still speaking though her tresses. "I will be honest to you and say that I missed you more than I missed her."
Jane didn't speak but took her hand that lay across her belly and brought it up to Rochester's shirt, fingering with the buttons. Mr. Rochester was about to ask if she needed anything but was cut off by her voice. "Before she died," she said, "before your accident. What did you do? Did you do anything to try to find me?"
Mr. Rochester let out a long sigh, his left arm pushing Jane's body closer to his own to assure himself that she was indeed there and not a five-year hallucination he was having. "What didn't I do to try to find you Janet? You vanished on the moor as quickly as you appeared to me, like the witch that you are. Every spit of earth you had ever tread upon I traveled to in my search. I went to Gateshead to find it in ruin and abandoned by your cousins. I wrote to Madeira but the only news I got from there was that your uncle had died. I even went to Lowood to see if you sought sanctuary there." Mr. Rochester heard Jane chuckle. "Why do you laugh?" he asked.
"At the thought of returning to that place," Jane answered, " and you thinking I would go there."
"I was a desperate man," Rochester countered. "I turned the world over trying to find you and would have continued to do so if not for that fire." Mr. Rochester paused and readjusted Jane's body against his own. "After that I was lame, blind, and helpless. I could not ride, and I was so weak and infirmed I could not spearhead a search party even from my own home. I went numb. It was easier that way, and lived my life in darkness, the only images ever before my eyes were in my dreams and all of them of your face." Mr. Rochester broke off suddenly. He turned his lips into his mouth and bit on them slightly. He blinked rapidly. "I thought you were a dream that day too, when you came home to me."
Jane reached up and stroked the underside of his jaw, her fingernail running over his cleanly shaven skin. "I'm sorry to have cause you such pain," she whispered.
It was as if the baby had been waiting for its cue and caught Jane so off guard that she let out a short, sharp and involuntary cry, her body curling around her husband's
"They're getting stronger," said Mr. Rochester, stating the obvious.
Jean nodded jerkily against her shoulder, her hand once again gripping her body. "I have one happy memory from Lowood," Jane said through her harsh and haggard breathing.
"Do you now," said Mr. Rochester, encouraging Jane to speak to distract herself from the pain.
Jane nodded frantically again. "Yes," she said. "I had a friend." Slowly Jane's voice began to even out and return to normal. "She gave me food on the first day I arrived at Lowood when I was punished and made to stand on a stool all day. She had red hair like I had never seen before, and curly too. She looked like a wild woman from the moor." Jane paused for a beat. "It's such a pity she died with short hair."
"She died?" asked Mr. Rochester.
Jane nodded. "She died of consumption in my arms while we were sleeping," said Jane. "Her name was Helen."
"Let's not talk of death and dying while you are lying here on this bed," said Mr. Rochester.
Jean turned her head towards her husband. "Is that what you are afraid of?" she asked, "of me dying in childbirth?"
"I'm afraid of you tripping and falling down the stairs," Mr. Rochester replied. "I'm afraid of your coughs and your shivers when you're chilled. Life has not been kind to me. I feel that fate has taken pity on me and sent you to me, but only for a brief respite." Jane felt her husband's fingers trembling around her hand. "Jane, I can't lose you," he said, voice shuddering as he lifted her hand to his lips. "I would soon follow you into the ground. Promise me Jane. Promise me you won't leave me."
"Edward," whispered Jane.
"Hush now," interrupted Jane, bending her body so she could see her husband, "don't brood on such thoughts. Where is your faith that I will be delivered of this child and given safely back to you?"
"I don't have your faith," said Rochester, his grip on her body like a vice, but gentle with her all the same. "But, now more than ever, I wish I did. With it, I think I could get though this night with a semblance of sanity."
"Edward," said Jane, garnering his attention. "I promise to keep my faith that God will protect me. And now you must promise me that if our children's mother dies—"
"Don't speak of it," said Mr. Rochester sharply.
"If I die," continued Jane, "you must be a father to your children. My heart would break if I thought their father would leave them orphans so soon after I had gone."
Rochester looked his wife dead in the eyes as he reached out and, with a single finger, skimmed over the shell of her ear. "My children are my whole world," Mr. Rochester said, "but you are my life, Jane. Without you, I could not live. You are the flint and steel the sparks the embers of my soul. Without you, it would wither and die. It is not a matter of will power, but a fact of nature."
There was a pregnant pause between husband and wife. Jane held Mr. Rochester's gaze as strongly as he did hers. "I love you too," she said, and kissed him.
Jane's body tightened and her lips twisted against Mr. Rochester's mouth. He swallowed her scream before she broke away from the contact. Mr. Rochester felt Jane's legs part slightly, her feet pressing flat into the mattress. Jane leaned her head back far over her husband's shoulder, the crown of her head touching the headboard. Rochester took the damp cloth and pressed it to Jane's forehead, holding it there. "Breathe," he said gently, "breathe through it." He deliberately expanded and contracted his chest so Jane could mimic it.
Jane took a gulp of air and let out a pained chuckle. "You coach me as if you were the one who had given birth," she joked. Jane pushed the cloth away from her face as she sat up, preferring to bear her contraction in a ball rather than stretched out. She let out another low pitched groan.
"Do you need me to call for the doctor?" asked Mr. Rochester, his body prepped to spring off the bed at a moment's notice, "Mrs. Fairfax?"
Jane shook her head. "No," she managed to say, once again leaning back into her husband. "No, not yet I think." Jane winced again and Rochester could see her jaw tighten as she clenched her teeth. "But, the baby's dropping," Jane said when she could speak again. Jean reached out for her husband's hand. "Here," Jane said, taking his hand and pressing it to her. "Feel it. Feel her."
Underneath Jane's hand, Mr. Rochester moved his palm across James' taught skin covered by her nightdress. He paused and when he did he felt movement underneath him. Mr. Rochester let out a soft sigh and kept his hand there, feeling his child within its mother.
"Helen," said Jane suddenly. Mr. Rochester turned and looked at her, wondering what she was talking about. "No," continued Jane, "not Helen. I would be melancholy every time I called her name." Jane paused for a beat. "Helena. We're going to name her Helena."
"Quite certain it's a girl now, are we?" joked Rochester.
"Of course I am," responded Jane. "I told you John was a boy and lo and behold he was. She will be no different."
Mr. Rochester laughed lightly. "I'm glad your responsibilities as Mrs. Rochester have not tampered with your skills as witchcraft."
Jane smiled, here eyes closed, but her face more radiant than the sun that was half a world a away. "Clearly. Otherwise, you would not still be bewitched by me."
"I'm glad you finally agree with me on both counts, Jane."
"And what counts would those be, Edward?"
"That you are indeed some magical entity that spirited to the word just in time to watch me fall from my horse, and that ever since that moment you have bewitched me into loving you more than my heart could hold."
Jane laughed. "Just remember, name her Helena."
"Be here to christen her yourself," said Mr. Rochester sternly.
"I have faith that I will be," answered Jane, "but I'm a practical woman."
Mr. Rochester nodded once, his throat tightening. "I know," he said softly.
As Jane's labor pains once gain began to leave her, she leaned back into her husband again. The weary look had returned to her eyes. "I'm so tired," she said.
"You should try to sleep if you can," supplied Mr. Rochester. "You need your strength."
Jane nodded her eyelids already dragging themselves together. Mr. Rochester watched as he face relaxed and her breathing slowed. Mr. Rochester wondered how his wife ever called herself plain. Even glistening with sweat, plates of hair sticking to the back of her neck and blended rings of blues and purples underneath her eyes, she was still the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen. Sometimes, when she laughed and her dimples dipped into her cheeks, or even more recently, when she curled up in a chair and stared almost sightlessly out the window her finger idly drawing circles on her stomach, swelling with child, Jane almost didn't seem real. Sometimes, Mr. Rochester wondered if she was. Less frequently than the years past, but still every so often getting a flash of fear, Mr. Rochester wondered if he had drifted off into madness when the resident maniac threw herself off of Thornfield's roof and Jane was his angelic delusion. Whether he was mad or not, he was madly in love with the mirage before him. Rochester reached out and traced the contours of her cheeks, the outline of her pale lips, the bridge of her nose. Rochester leaned down and settled the side of his jaw against the curve of her head, Jane's hair wrapping around the rim of his ear dipping into his mouth when he breathed. He continued to run his fingers over Jane's features. If this were a dream, Rochester would never allow himself to wake from it. Within moments, Mr. Rochester followed Jane into sleep.
The sun had not yet risen when Mr. Rochester felt Jane violently jerk against his body, her scream tearing his eyes open. Rochester turned and saw his wife leaning against the headboard, her eyes wide, panting rhythmically through her open mouth. Rochester was just about to ask Jane what the matter was but his voice died in his throat. When he shifted, the clear liquid that now soaked the sheets seeped into his pants.
"The baby," Jane moaned leaning her head back against the bed frame, "she's coming."
Rochester had just got enough wind in his lungs to call out for Mrs. Fairfax and the doctor when the door opened with a bang and the breath left him in a rush.
"I heard her scream," said Mrs. Fairfax, leaning against the door as the doctor came in around her and approached the mistress of Thornfield. Gently, the doctor laid his hand on Jane's abdomen and pressed around. Even in the chaos of the delivery of his child, Mr. Rochester was still pricked by the fact that another man was touching his wife so intimately.
"Mrs. Rochester," said the doctor, "do you feel the urge to push?"
"Yes," said Jane, the pain in her voice elongating the syllable. The doctor pulled away for a moment to make his final preparations for the birth while Rochester took Jane's hand and readjusted himself on his corner of the bed. Jane peeled her eyes open and looked at Rochester as if she just remembered that he was there. "Mrs. Fairfax," she said weakly, "please escort Mr. Rochester from the room."
"What?" said Mr. Rochester, sharply turning his head towards his wife. "You can't be serious Jane."
"It's improper," said Jane simply, "and, as you've said yourself, it distresses you to see me in pain."
"But that doesn't mean I want to be banished from the room," protested Mr. Rochester, still refusing to relinquish his place on the bed or his hold on Jane's hand. "I was present for the birth of our firstborn."
"Edward," said Jane gently. "You were still recovering your sight when John was born and you still worked yourself into a state. Now that you have regained your sight, I have no wish for you to see me like this."
Mr. Rochester sputtered, but fell silent when he felt Mrs. Fairfax's hands on his shoulders, knowing that he had lost a battle he never intended on fighting. With Mrs. Fairfax's guidance, Mr. Rochester rose from the bed, only to break out of her grip moments later. He leaned over Jane and kissed her hard on the mouth before he allowed himself to be pulled from the room.
Mrs. Fairfax took a chair from an adjoining room and sat her master down in it before she returned to the bedroom. Rochester pulled the chair even closer to the door, almost to the point that if anyone wished to leave the room they would trip over him and settled uneasily into it. He fiddled at the frayed strings of the upholstery, pulling and tugging until he could twist the strings around his fingers. Every time Jane groaned from within Rochester huffed to himself, tossed his head about or jittered his foot until, at one of Jane's cries, he stood up and leaned his ear into the barrier between them. After that, Rochester paced in tight circles pausing to re-cross his arms or stare up at the high ceiling above him whenever his wife made a sound.
"Monsieur Rochester?" Rochester tore himself out of his self-induced trance and looked up at the figure emerging from the shadow of the hall. Adele removed her bonnet, revealing the ringlets in her hair, and pulled off her cloak, which she folded and placed on top of the small trunk deposited by her feet.
"Adele," said Rochester, grateful for the distraction that loosened the knots in his stomach. He stood and embraced the teenager around the shoulders who kissed him once on each cheek in greeting. "I thought you'd be at school." The few months since Adele had last been at Thornfield had changed her features and the past five years had even more so. She was almost as tall as Jane was and had the beginnings of a woman's body, but still spent her allowances on Parisian fashion as she always had. Every time Rochester saw Adele she looked more and more like her mother, but that didn't cause him the anger it once did. Somehow in some way, whether their combined longing for their missing governess and wished for wife or Jane's love that tethered two lost and lonely souls together, Adele had stopped being his ward and became his step daughter. Rochester more remembered what he was told than what he recalled with his own eyes of Adele crying in her maid Sophie's arms for her 'Miss Eyre' whenever he came home aching and stinking of horse after days of riding to search villages and hamlets farther and farther away. He sent her to school then, not being able to stand Adele's grief which sharpened his own. He did remember the morning she left and his surprise when Adele clutched and clung to him before he resolutely carried her to the carriage with promises that he would write to her as often as she did. Rochester never regretted his decision; especially the timing of it, for barely a week and a day since Adele's departure and Thornfield was up in flames.
Adele produced a letter from her petticoat pocket. "Madame wrote to me inviting me to Thornfield for the birth of the baby." As Adele returned the letter to her pocket, her hand froze there when she heard the noise coming from the bedroom behind her adopted father. She looked up at Rochester her eyes wide. "Is she…"
Rochester nodded stiffly feeling the tension return to his chest. "For some time now, but for how much longer I do not know. The ladies saw it fit to send me from the room."
The two lapsed into silence and Rochester watched Adele's eyes drift from the door to himself, away and back again. "May I?" Adele finally said.
Rochester abruptly sidestepped out of Adele's path. "Of course," he said as Adele skittered past. With her hand of the door handle Rochester reached and grabbed the other. "Wait." Adele turned and watched Rochester take her hand and cradle it in his own. "Mrs. Rochester will be pleased to see you," he said, "and it will give me a great comfort to know you are with her." Adele's eyes warmed and gently and she let her hand slide through his fingers before she passed into the bedroom. Rochester glimpsed Jane for a small moment, long enough to see her lift her head slightly and recognize Adele before the door swung shut.
Alone again the dark, empty corridor, Rochester did not feel the comfort of Adele's presence put him at ease as much as he hoped it would. He was too tightly strung to sit or pace or do much of anything else. He leaned up against the wall, kicking the heel of his riding boot into the stone. From his position, Rochester saw Adele's parcels left where she had dropped them by his chair. Desperate for something to do to burn away some of the unending minutes of waiting, Rochester impulsively pushed himself away from the wall and took hold of Adele's traveling case with his good hand and tossed the bonnet and cloak over his opposite arm. Adele's room from when she stayed at Thornfield had been relocated from the room that served as her nursery to the bedroom a few doors down which had been Jane's room during her tenure as a governess. She had been moved to this room once Thornfield had been rebuilt and Rochester recalled Jane asking her to stay, offering to be both her teacher and her mother but Adele enjoyed the company of her new friends at her school too much to return to the isolated manor. Jane conceded but always went out of her way to show Adele she was welcome at Thornfield and wrote to her often, inquiring about her studies and making sure no one was mistreating Adele as she had been during her childhood. Rochester hung Adele's cloak and bonnet up in the wardrobe and bent down the place the traveling case an the floor beside the bed. He stood up abruptly when he heard crying coming from down the hall. Rochester rushed out to the room, thinking that the baby had been born, but paused, realizing that the sounds were originating from the opposite direction. Rochester turned his head towards his son's nursery.
The low-lit lights had gone out and the unattended toddler was standing in his crib, pudgy hands clinging to the edge, red cheeked and wailing to anyone within earshot. Rochester left the door open when he entered the room. "John," he said gently. The toddler quieted to a low whimper. With one hand, John reached out through the semi-darkness for his father. Rochester swung his son up into his arms and returned to his vigil outside his own bedroom. En route, John, already visibly comforted, drifted back to sleep, his fingers wrapped around Rochester's shirtsleeve. Rochester couldn't hide the prickle of jealously when Jane suggested they name their firstborn son after the man who almost made her a missionary's wife. When news came from India regarding his death Rochester imagined Jane languishing alone and friendless on a strange shore while her husband died of malaria in the next room and it discomforted him to think of how close his imagination came to becoming reality. However, when the new infant was placed in his arms and he saw with his weak sight his own countenance staring back at his through John's big, black eyes he realized that the baby would never have been born without St. John Rivers. If it weren't for him, Jane wouldn't have died sweltering in a subtropical summer but frozen on a winter's night out on an endless moor St. John happened to be traveling across. Rochester immediately agreed to his wife's wishes in gratitude of Jane's cousin's charity. Rochester tucked his feet up into the chair when he sat down and let John's head fall back against his knees. He ran his hand through John's raven hair currently shaggy and unkempt from sleep. Rochester hadn't realized how tired he was until that moment.
Rochester shifted in his sleep, a small sound disturbing him. For a moment, he thought it was John fussing again and made a move to shush him. He opened his eyes to see that the baby slept soundly. Rochester's breath caught in his throat and, almost not daring to believe it, shifted his gaze over to the bedroom door. The door was pushed open and banged against the wall as Rochester stood and Adele came to an abrupt halt in front of him. "It's a girl," she said in a rush, wiping the corner of her eyes before she clasped her hands in front of her. "Une belle femme."
The breath that Rochester had been holding came out in a soft sigh. Without a word Rochester passed John to his adopted daughter and stepped into the room to meet his new one. The fire had been put out and the windows thrown open. The light from the coming dawn illuminated Jane's face. Rochester perched himself on the edge of the bed. He swept her sweat slicked curls off her forehead and in the same motion picked up her hand and pressed it to his lips. "Jane," Rochester said, but Jane's eyes were closed her breath light in her slumber.
"She's exhausted but they both did perfectly." Rochester turned his head towards Mrs. Fairfax who stood just off to the side of the doctor who was packing his baggage. In her arms was a bundle of white linen that rustled and gurgled softly. Rochester moved across the room in a few steps but the motion seemed to take an eternity. When Rochester neared, his eyes locked on the swaddling cloths, Mrs. Fairfax pulled one back revealing the face of the newborn within, sleeping contently. "She's as sweet and well mannered as her mother," commented Mrs. Fairfax.
Rochester nodded. "Yes," he said, eyes blinking rapidly. His arms reached forward than retracted then extended again with all the insecurities of a new father, his eyes almost asking permission of the housekeeper. Mrs. Fairfax chuckled lightly and passed the infant to her father, his wrist supporting her back and his full hand holding her securely. The baby whimpered and turned itself towards her father's chest before settling again, one arm freed from its bindings.
"Have you and Mrs. Rochester decided on a name?" asked Mrs. Fairfax as Rochester wandered away from her.
Rochester paused by the window and ran the pad of her finger over the tips of his daughter's, marveling at her miniscule fingernails. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. He wanted to remember this moment forever. He wanted the sound to echo in his ears, savor the way his mouth moved in saying his daughter's name for the first time. "Helena." The new morning flashed its light over the newborn. Helena opened her eyes and almost reflexively wrapped her tiny fingers around Rochester's thumb.