He did not leave for Cambridge the next day, as he had said he would. H_eferred his departure a whole week, and during that time he made me feel wha_evere punishment a good yet stern, a conscientious yet implacable man ca_nflict on one who has offended him. Without one overt act of hostility, on_pbraiding word, he contrived to impress me momently with the conviction tha_ was put beyond the pale of his favour.
Not that St. John harboured a spirit of unchristian vindictiveness—not that h_ould have injured a hair of my head, if it had been fully in his power to d_o. Both by nature and principle, he was superior to the mean gratificatio_f vengeance: he had forgiven me for saying I scorned him and his love, but h_ad not forgotten the words; and as long as he and I lived he never woul_orget them. I saw by his look, when he turned to me, that they were alway_ritten on the air between me and him; whenever I spoke, they sounded in m_oice to his ear, and their echo toned every answer he gave me.
He did not abstain from conversing with me: he even called me as usual eac_orning to join him at his desk; and I fear the corrupt man within him had _leasure unimparted to, and unshared by, the pure Christian, in evincing wit_hat skill he could, while acting and speaking apparently just as usual, extract from every deed and every phrase the spirit of interest and approva_hich had formerly communicated a certain austere charm to his language an_anner. To me, he was in reality become no longer flesh, but marble; his ey_as a cold, bright, blue gem; his tongue a speaking instrument—nothing more.
All this was torture to me—refined, lingering torture. It kept up a slow fir_f indignation and a trembling trouble of grief, which harassed and crushed m_ltogether. I felt how—if I were his wife, this good man, pure as the dee_unless source, could soon kill me, without drawing from my veins a singl_rop of blood, or receiving on his own crystal conscience the faintest stai_f crime. Especially I felt this when I made any attempt to propitiate him.
No ruth met my ruth. _He_ experienced no suffering from estrangement—n_earning after reconciliation; and though, more than once, my fast fallin_ears blistered the page over which we both bent, they produced no more effec_n him than if his heart had been really a matter of stone or metal. To hi_isters, meantime, he was somewhat kinder than usual: as if afraid that mer_oldness would not sufficiently convince me how completely I was banished an_anned, he added the force of contrast; and this I am sure he did not b_orce, but on principle.
The night before he left home, happening to see him walking in the garde_bout sunset, and remembering, as I looked at him, that this man, alienated a_e now was, had once saved my life, and that we were near relations, I wa_oved to make a last attempt to regain his friendship. I went out an_pproached him as he stood leaning over the little gate; I spoke to the poin_t once.
“St. John, I am unhappy because you are still angry with me. Let us b_riends.”
“I hope we are friends,” was the unmoved reply; while he still watched th_ising of the moon, which he had been contemplating as I approached.
“No, St. John, we are not friends as we were. You know that.”
“Are we not? That is wrong. For my part, I wish you no ill and all good.”
“I believe you, St. John; for I am sure you are incapable of wishing any on_ll; but, as I am your kinswoman, I should desire somewhat more of affectio_han that sort of general philanthropy you extend to mere strangers.”
“Of course,” he said. “Your wish is reasonable, and I am far from regardin_ou as a stranger.”
This, spoken in a cool, tranquil tone, was mortifying and baffling enough.
Had I attended to the suggestions of pride and ire, I should immediately hav_eft him; but something worked within me more strongly than those feeling_ould. I deeply venerated my cousin’s talent and principle. His friendshi_as of value to me: to lose it tried me severely. I would not so soo_elinquish the attempt to reconquer it.
“Must we part in this way, St. John? And when you go to India, will you leav_e so, without a kinder word than you have yet spoken?”
He now turned quite from the moon and faced me.
“When I go to India, Jane, will I leave you! What! do you not go to India?”
“You said I could not unless I married you.”
“And you will not marry me! You adhere to that resolution?”
Reader, do you know, as I do, what terror those cold people can put into th_ce of their questions? How much of the fall of the avalanche is in thei_nger? of the breaking up of the frozen sea in their displeasure?
“No. St. John, I will not marry you. I adhere to my resolution.”
The avalanche had shaken and slid a little forward, but it did not yet cras_own.
“Once more, why this refusal?” he asked.
“Formerly,” I answered, “because you did not love me; now, I reply, becaus_ou almost hate me. If I were to marry you, you would kill me. You ar_illing me now.”
His lips and cheeks turned white—quite white.
“ _I should kill you_ — _I am killing you_? Your words are such as ought no_o be used: violent, unfeminine, and untrue. They betray an unfortunate stat_f mind: they merit severe reproof: they would seem inexcusable, but that i_s the duty of man to forgive his fellow even until seventy-and-seven times.”
I had finished the business now. While earnestly wishing to erase from hi_ind the trace of my former offence, I had stamped on that tenacious surfac_nother and far deeper impression, I had burnt it in.
“Now you will indeed hate me,” I said. “It is useless to attempt t_onciliate you: I see I have made an eternal enemy of you.”
A fresh wrong did these words inflict: the worse, because they touched on th_ruth. That bloodless lip quivered to a temporary spasm. I knew the steel_re I had whetted. I was heart-wrung.
“You utterly misinterpret my words,” I said, at once seizing his hand: “I hav_o intention to grieve or pain you—indeed, I have not.”
Most bitterly he smiled—most decidedly he withdrew his hand from mine. “An_ow you recall your promise, and will not go to India at all, I presume?” sai_e, after a considerable pause.
“Yes, I will, as your assistant,” I answered.
A very long silence succeeded. What struggle there was in him between Natur_nd Grace in this interval, I cannot tell: only singular gleams scintillate_n his eyes, and strange shadows passed over his face. He spoke at last.
“I before proved to you the absurdity of a single woman of your age proposin_o accompany abroad a single man of mine. I proved it to you in such term_s, I should have thought, would have prevented your ever again alluding t_he plan. That you have done so, I regret—for your sake.”
I interrupted him. Anything like a tangible reproach gave me courage at once.
“Keep to common sense, St. John: you are verging on nonsense. You pretend t_e shocked by what I have said. You are not really shocked: for, with you_uperior mind, you cannot be either so dull or so conceited as t_isunderstand my meaning. I say again, I will be your curate, if you like, but never your wife.”
Again he turned lividly pale; but, as before, controlled his passio_erfectly. He answered emphatically but calmly—
“A female curate, who is not my wife, would never suit me. With me, then, i_eems, you cannot go: but if you are sincere in your offer, I will, while i_own, speak to a married missionary, whose wife needs a coadjutor. Your ow_ortune will make you independent of the Society’s aid; and thus you may stil_e spared the dishonour of breaking your promise and deserting the band yo_ngaged to join.”
Now I never had, as the reader knows, either given any formal promise o_ntered into any engagement; and this language was all much too hard and muc_oo despotic for the occasion. I replied—
“There is no dishonour, no breach of promise, no desertion in the case. I a_ot under the slightest obligation to go to India, especially with strangers.
With you I would have ventured much, because I admire, confide in, and, as _ister, I love you; but I am convinced that, go when and with whom I would, _hould not live long in that climate.”
“Ah! you are afraid of yourself,” he said, curling his lip.
“I am. God did not give me my life to throw away; and to do as you wish m_ould, I begin to think, be almost equivalent to committing suicide.
Moreover, before I definitively resolve on quitting England, I will know fo_ertain whether I cannot be of greater use by remaining in it than by leavin_t.”
“What do you mean?”
“It would be fruitless to attempt to explain; but there is a point on which _ave long endured painful doubt, and I can go nowhere till by some means tha_oubt is removed.”
“I know where your heart turns and to what it clings. The interest yo_herish is lawless and unconsecrated. Long since you ought to have crushe_t: now you should blush to allude to it. You think of Mr. Rochester?”
It was true. I confessed it by silence.
“Are you going to seek Mr. Rochester?”
“I must find out what is become of him.”
“It remains for me, then,” he said, “to remember you in my prayers, and t_ntreat God for you, in all earnestness, that you may not indeed become _astaway. I had thought I recognised in you one of the chosen. But God see_ot as man sees: _His_ will be done—”
He opened the gate, passed through it, and strayed away down the glen. He wa_oon out of sight.
On re-entering the parlour, I found Diana standing at the window, looking ver_houghtful. Diana was a great deal taller than I: she put her hand on m_houlder, and, stooping, examined my face.
“Jane,” she said, “you are always agitated and pale now. I am sure there i_omething the matter. Tell me what business St. John and you have on hands.
I have watched you this half hour from the window; you must forgive my bein_uch a spy, but for a long time I have fancied I hardly know what. St. Joh_s a strange being—”
She paused—I did not speak: soon she resumed—
“That brother of mine cherishes peculiar views of some sort respecting you, _m sure: he has long distinguished you by a notice and interest he neve_howed to any one else—to what end? I wish he loved you—does he, Jane?”
I put her cool hand to my hot forehead; “No, Die, not one whit.”
“Then why does he follow you so with his eyes, and get you so frequently alon_ith him, and keep you so continually at his side? Mary and I had bot_oncluded he wished you to marry him.”
“He does—he has asked me to be his wife.”
Diana clapped her hands. “That is just what we hoped and thought! And yo_ill marry him, Jane, won’t you? And then he will stay in England.”
“Far from that, Diana; his sole idea in proposing to me is to procure _itting fellow-labourer in his Indian toils.”
“What! He wishes you to go to India?”
“Madness!” she exclaimed. “You would not live three months there, I a_ertain. You never shall go: you have not consented, have you, Jane?”
“I have refused to marry him—”
“And have consequently displeased him?” she suggested.
“Deeply: he will never forgive me, I fear: yet I offered to accompany him a_is sister.”
“It was frantic folly to do so, Jane. Think of the task you undertook—one o_ncessant fatigue, where fatigue kills even the strong, and you are weak. St.
John—you know him—would urge you to impossibilities: with him there would b_o permission to rest during the hot hours; and unfortunately, I have noticed, whatever he exacts, you force yourself to perform. I am astonished you foun_ourage to refuse his hand. You do not love him then, Jane?”
“Not as a husband.”
“Yet he is a handsome fellow.”
“And I am so plain, you see, Die. We should never suit.”
“Plain! You? Not at all. You are much too pretty, as well as too good, t_e grilled alive in Calcutta.” And again she earnestly conjured me to give u_ll thoughts of going out with her brother.
“I must indeed,” I said; “for when just now I repeated the offer of servin_im for a deacon, he expressed himself shocked at my want of decency. H_eemed to think I had committed an impropriety in proposing to accompany hi_nmarried: as if I had not from the first hoped to find in him a brother, an_abitually regarded him as such.”
“What makes you say he does not love you, Jane?”
“You should hear himself on the subject. He has again and again explaine_hat it is not himself, but his office he wishes to mate. He has told me I a_ormed for labour—not for love: which is true, no doubt. But, in my opinion, if I am not formed for love, it follows that I am not formed for marriage.
Would it not be strange, Die, to be chained for life to a man who regarded on_ut as a useful tool?”
“Insupportable—unnatural—out of the question!”
“And then,” I continued, “though I have only sisterly affection for him now, yet, if forced to be his wife, I can imagine the possibility of conceiving a_nevitable, strange, torturing kind of love for him, because he is s_alented; and there is often a certain heroic grandeur in his look, manner, and conversation. In that case, my lot would become unspeakably wretched. H_ould not want me to love him; and if I showed the feeling, he would make m_ensible that it was a superfluity, unrequired by him, unbecoming in me. _now he would.”
“And yet St. John is a good man,” said Diana.
“He is a good and a great man; but he forgets, pitilessly, the feelings an_laims of little people, in pursuing his own large views. It is better, therefore, for the insignificant to keep out of his way, lest, in hi_rogress, he should trample them down. Here he comes! I will leave you, Diana.” And I hastened upstairs as I saw him entering the garden.
But I was forced to meet him again at supper. During that meal he appeare_ust as composed as usual. I had thought he would hardly speak to me, and _as certain he had given up the pursuit of his matrimonial scheme: the seque_howed I was mistaken on both points. He addressed me precisely in hi_rdinary manner, or what had, of late, been his ordinary manner—on_crupulously polite. No doubt he had invoked the help of the Holy Spirit t_ubdue the anger I had roused in him, and now believed he had forgiven me onc_ore.
For the evening reading before prayers, he selected the twenty-first chapte_f Revelation. It was at all times pleasant to listen while from his lip_ell the words of the Bible: never did his fine voice sound at once so swee_nd full—never did his manner become so impressive in its noble simplicity, a_hen he delivered the oracles of God: and to-night that voice took a mor_olemn tone—that manner a more thrilling meaning—as he sat in the midst of hi_ousehold circle (the May moon shining in through the uncurtained window, an_endering almost unnecessary the light of the candle on the table): as he sa_here, bending over the great old Bible, and described from its page th_ision of the new heaven and the new earth—told how God would come to dwel_ith men, how He would wipe away all tears from their eyes, and promised tha_here should be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, nor any more pain, because the former things were passed away.
The succeeding words thrilled me strangely as he spoke them: especially as _elt, by the slight, indescribable alteration in sound, that in uttering them, his eye had turned on me.
“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and h_hall be my son. But,” was slowly, distinctly read, “the fearful, th_nbelieving, &c., shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fir_nd brimstone, which is the second death.”
Henceforward, I knew what fate St. John feared for me.
A calm, subdued triumph, blent with a longing earnestness, marked hi_nunciation of the last glorious verses of that chapter. The reader believe_is name was already written in the Lamb’s book of life, and he yearned afte_he hour which should admit him to the city to which the kings of the eart_ring their glory and honour; which has no need of sun or moon to shine in it, because the glory of God lightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
In the prayer following the chapter, all his energy gathered—all his ster_eal woke: he was in deep earnest, wrestling with God, and resolved on _onquest. He supplicated strength for the weak-hearted; guidance fo_anderers from the fold: a return, even at the eleventh hour, for those who_he temptations of the world and the flesh were luring from the narrow path.
He asked, he urged, he claimed the boon of a brand snatched from the burning.
Earnestness is ever deeply solemn: first, as I listened to that prayer, _ondered at his; then, when it continued and rose, I was touched by it, and a_ast awed. He felt the greatness and goodness of his purpose so sincerely: others who heard him plead for it, could not but feel it too.
The prayer over, we took leave of him: he was to go at a very early hour i_he morning. Diana and Mary having kissed him, left the room—in compliance, _hink, with a whispered hint from him: I tendered my hand, and wished him _leasant journey.
“Thank you, Jane. As I said, I shall return from Cambridge in a fortnight: that space, then, is yet left you for reflection. If I listened to huma_ride, I should say no more to you of marriage with me; but I listen to m_uty, and keep steadily in view my first aim—to do all things to the glory o_od. My Master was long-suffering: so will I be. I cannot give you up t_erdition as a vessel of wrath: repent—resolve, while there is yet time.
Remember, we are bid to work while it is day—warned that ‘the night comet_hen no man shall work.’ Remember the fate of Dives, who had his good thing_n this life. God give you strength to choose that better part which shal_ot be taken from you!”
He laid his hand on my head as he uttered the last words. He had spoke_arnestly, mildly: his look was not, indeed, that of a lover beholding hi_istress, but it was that of a pastor recalling his wandering sheep—or better, of a guardian angel watching the soul for which he is responsible. All men o_alent, whether they be men of feeling or not; whether they be zealots, o_spirants, or despots—provided only they be sincere—have their sublim_oments, when they subdue and rule. I felt veneration for St. John—veneratio_o strong that its impetus thrust me at once to the point I had so lon_hunned. I was tempted to cease struggling with him—to rush down the torren_f his will into the gulf of his existence, and there lose my own. I wa_lmost as hard beset by him now as I had been once before, in a different way, by another. I was a fool both times. To have yielded then would have been a_rror of principle; to have yielded now would have been an error of judgment.
So I think at this hour, when I look back to the crisis through the quie_edium of time: I was unconscious of folly at the instant.
I stood motionless under my hierophant’s touch. My refusals were forgotten—m_ears overcome—my wrestlings paralysed. The Impossible— _i.e._ , my marriag_ith St. John—was fast becoming the Possible. All was changing utterly with _udden sweep. Religion called—Angels beckoned—God commanded—life rolle_ogether like a scroll—death’s gates opening, showed eternity beyond: i_eemed, that for safety and bliss there, all here might be sacrificed in _econd. The dim room was full of visions.
“Could you decide now?” asked the missionary. The inquiry was put in gentl_ones: he drew me to him as gently. Oh, that gentleness! how far more poten_s it than force! I could resist St. John’s wrath: I grew pliant as a ree_nder his kindness. Yet I knew all the time, if I yielded now, I should no_he less be made to repent, some day, of my former rebellion. His nature wa_ot changed by one hour of solemn prayer: it was only elevated.
“I could decide if I were but certain,” I answered: “were I but convinced tha_t is God’s will I should marry you, I could vow to marry you here an_ow—come afterwards what would!”
“My prayers are heard!” ejaculated St. John. He pressed his hand firmer on m_ead, as if he claimed me: he surrounded me with his arm, _almost_ as if h_oved me (I say _almost_ —I knew the difference—for I had felt what it was t_e loved; but, like him, I had now put love out of the question, and though_nly of duty). I contended with my inward dimness of vision, before whic_louds yet rolled. I sincerely, deeply, fervently longed to do what wa_ight; and only that. “Show me, show me the path!” I entreated of Heaven. _as excited more than I had ever been; and whether what followed was th_ffect of excitement the reader shall judge.
All the house was still; for I believe all, except St. John and myself, wer_ow retired to rest. The one candle was dying out: the room was full o_oonlight. My heart beat fast and thick: I heard its throb. Suddenly i_tood still to an inexpressible feeling that thrilled it through, and passe_t once to my head and extremities. The feeling was not like an electri_hock, but it was quite as sharp, as strange, as startling: it acted on m_enses as if their utmost activity hitherto had been but torpor, from whic_hey were now summoned and forced to wake. They rose expectant: eye and ea_aited while the flesh quivered on my bones.
“What have you heard? What do you see?” asked St. John. I saw nothing, but _eard a voice somewhere cry—
“Jane! Jane! Jane!”—nothing more.
“O God! what is it?” I gasped.
I might have said, “Where is it?” for it did not seem in the room—nor in th_ouse—nor in the garden; it did not come out of the air—nor from under th_arth—nor from overhead. I had heard it—where, or whence, for ever impossibl_o know! And it was the voice of a human being—a known, loved, well- remembered voice—that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain an_oe, wildly, eerily, urgently.
“I am coming!” I cried. “Wait for me! Oh, I will come!” I flew to the doo_nd looked into the passage: it was dark. I ran out into the garden: it wa_oid.
“Where are you?” I exclaimed.
The hills beyond Marsh Glen sent the answer faintly back—“Where are you?” _istened. The wind sighed low in the firs: all was moorland loneliness an_idnight hush.
“Down superstition!” I commented, as that spectre rose up black by the blac_ew at the gate. “This is not thy deception, nor thy witchcraft: it is th_ork of nature. She was roused, and did—no miracle—but her best.”
I broke from St. John, who had followed, and would have detained me. It wa_my_ time to assume ascendency. _My_ powers were in play and in force. _old him to forbear question or remark; I desired him to leave me: I must an_ould be alone. He obeyed at once. Where there is energy to command wel_nough, obedience never fails. I mounted to my chamber; locked myself in; fell on my knees; and prayed in my way—a different way to St. John’s, bu_ffective in its own fashion. I seemed to penetrate very near a Might_pirit; and my soul rushed out in gratitude at His feet. I rose from th_hanksgiving—took a resolve—and lay down, unscared, enlightened—eager but fo_he daylight.