The manor-house of Ferndean was a building of considerable antiquity, moderat_ize, and no architectural pretensions, deep buried in a wood. I had heard o_t before. Mr. Rochester often spoke of it, and sometimes went there. Hi_ather had purchased the estate for the sake of the game covers. He woul_ave let the house, but could find no tenant, in consequence of its ineligibl_nd insalubrious site. Ferndean then remained uninhabited and unfurnished, with the exception of some two or three rooms fitted up for the accommodatio_f the squire when he went there in the season to shoot.
To this house I came just ere dark on an evening marked by the characteristic_f sad sky, cold gale, and continued small penetrating rain. The last mile _erformed on foot, having dismissed the chaise and driver with the doubl_emuneration I had promised. Even when within a very short distance of th_anor-house, you could see nothing of it, so thick and dark grew the timber o_he gloomy wood about it. Iron gates between granite pillars showed me wher_o enter, and passing through them, I found myself at once in the twilight o_lose-ranked trees. There was a grass-grown track descending the forest aisl_etween hoar and knotty shafts and under branched arches. I followed it, expecting soon to reach the dwelling; but it stretched on and on, it would fa_nd farther: no sign of habitation or grounds was visible.
I thought I had taken a wrong direction and lost my way. The darkness o_atural as well as of sylvan dusk gathered over me. I looked round in searc_f another road. There was none: all was interwoven stem, columnar trunk, dense summer foliage—no opening anywhere.
I proceeded: at last my way opened, the trees thinned a little; presently _eheld a railing, then the house—scarce, by this dim light, distinguishabl_rom the trees; so dank and green were its decaying walls. Entering a portal, fastened only by a latch, I stood amidst a space of enclosed ground, fro_hich the wood swept away in a semicircle. There were no flowers, no garden- beds; only a broad gravel-walk girdling a grass-plat, and this set in th_eavy frame of the forest. The house presented two pointed gables in it_ront; the windows were latticed and narrow: the front door was narrow too, one step led up to it. The whole looked, as the host of the Rochester Arm_ad said, “quite a desolate spot.” It was as still as a church on a week-day: the pattering rain on the forest leaves was the only sound audible in it_icinage.
“Can there be life here?” I asked.
Yes, life of some kind there was; for I heard a movement—that narrow front- door was unclosing, and some shape was about to issue from the grange.
It opened slowly: a figure came out into the twilight and stood on the step; _an without a hat: he stretched forth his hand as if to feel whether i_ained. Dusk as it was, I had recognised him—it was my master, Edward Fairfa_ochester, and no other.
I stayed my step, almost my breath, and stood to watch him—to examine him, myself unseen, and alas! to him invisible. It was a sudden meeting, and on_n which rapture was kept well in check by pain. I had no difficulty i_estraining my voice from exclamation, my step from hasty advance.
His form was of the same strong and stalwart contour as ever: his port wa_till erect, his hair was still raven black; nor were his features altered o_unk: not in one year’s space, by any sorrow, could his athletic strength b_uelled or his vigorous prime blighted. But in his countenance I saw _hange: that looked desperate and brooding—that reminded me of some wronge_nd fettered wild beast or bird, dangerous to approach in his sullen woe. Th_aged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished, might look a_ooked that sightless Samson.
And, reader, do you think I feared him in his blind ferocity?—if you do, yo_ittle know me. A soft hope blest with my sorrow that soon I should dare t_rop a kiss on that brow of rock, and on those lips so sternly sealed beneat_t: but not yet. I would not accost him yet.
He descended the one step, and advanced slowly and gropingly towards th_rass-plat. Where was his daring stride now? Then he paused, as if he kne_ot which way to turn. He lifted his hand and opened his eyelids; gaze_lank, and with a straining effort, on the sky, and toward the amphitheatre o_rees: one saw that all to him was void darkness. He stretched his right hand (the left arm, the mutilated one, he kept hidden in his bosom); he seemed t_ish by touch to gain an idea of what lay around him: he met but vacanc_till; for the trees were some yards off where he stood. He relinquished th_ndeavour, folded his arms, and stood quiet and mute in the rain, now fallin_ast on his uncovered head. At this moment John approached him from som_uarter.
“Will you take my arm, sir?” he said; “there is a heavy shower coming on: ha_ou not better go in?”
“Let me alone,” was the answer.
John withdrew without having observed me. Mr. Rochester now tried to wal_bout: vainly,—all was too uncertain. He groped his way back to the house, and, re-entering it, closed the door.
I now drew near and knocked: John’s wife opened for me. “Mary,” I said, “ho_re you?”
She started as if she had seen a ghost: I calmed her. To her hurried “Is i_eally you, miss, come at this late hour to this lonely place?” I answered b_aking her hand; and then I followed her into the kitchen, where John now sa_y a good fire. I explained to them, in few words, that I had heard all whic_ad happened since I left Thornfield, and that I was come to see Mr.
Rochester. I asked John to go down to the turn-pike-house, where I ha_ismissed the chaise, and bring my trunk, which I had left there: and then, while I removed my bonnet and shawl, I questioned Mary as to whether I coul_e accommodated at the Manor House for the night; and finding tha_rrangements to that effect, though difficult, would not be impossible, _nformed her I should stay. Just at this moment the parlour-bell rang.
“When you go in,” said I, “tell your master that a person wishes to speak t_im, but do not give my name.”
“I don’t think he will see you,” she answered; “he refuses everybody.”
When she returned, I inquired what he had said. “You are to send in your nam_nd your business,” she replied. She then proceeded to fill a glass wit_ater, and place it on a tray, together with candles.
“Is that what he rang for?” I asked.
“Yes: he always has candles brought in at dark, though he is blind.”
“Give the tray to me; I will carry it in.”
I took it from her hand: she pointed me out the parlour door. The tray shoo_s I held it; the water spilt from the glass; my heart struck my ribs loud an_ast. Mary opened the door for me, and shut it behind me.
This parlour looked gloomy: a neglected handful of fire burnt low in th_rate; and, leaning over it, with his head supported against the high, old- fashioned mantelpiece, appeared the blind tenant of the room. His old dog, Pilot, lay on one side, removed out of the way, and coiled up as if afraid o_eing inadvertently trodden upon. Pilot pricked up his ears when I came in: then he jumped up with a yelp and a whine, and bounded towards me: he almos_nocked the tray from my hands. I set it on the table; then patted him, an_aid softly, “Lie down!” Mr. Rochester turned mechanically to _see_ what th_ommotion was: but as he _saw_ nothing, he returned and sighed.
“Give me the water, Mary,” he said.
I approached him with the now only half-filled glass; Pilot followed me, stil_xcited.
“What is the matter?” he inquired.
“Down, Pilot!” I again said. He checked the water on its way to his lips, an_eemed to listen: he drank, and put the glass down. “This is you, Mary, is i_ot?”
“Mary is in the kitchen,” I answered.
He put out his hand with a quick gesture, but not seeing where I stood, he di_ot touch me. “Who is this? Who is this?” he demanded, trying, as it seemed, to _see_ with those sightless eyes—unavailing and distressing attempt!
“Answer me—speak again!” he ordered, imperiously and aloud.
“Will you have a little more water, sir? I spilt half of what was in th_lass,” I said.
“ _Who_ is it? _What_ is it? Who speaks?”
“Pilot knows me, and John and Mary know I am here. I came only this evening,” I answered.
“Great God!—what delusion has come over me? What sweet madness has seize_e?”
“No delusion—no madness: your mind, sir, is too strong for delusion, you_ealth too sound for frenzy.”
“And where is the speaker? Is it only a voice? Oh! I _cannot_ see, but _ust feel, or my heart will stop and my brain burst. Whatever—whoever yo_re—be perceptible to the touch or I cannot live!”
He groped; I arrested his wandering hand, and prisoned it in both mine.
“Her very fingers!” he cried; “her small, slight fingers! If so there must b_ore of her.”
The muscular hand broke from my custody; my arm was seized, m_houlder—neck—waist—I was entwined and gathered to him.
“Is it Jane? _What_ is it? This is her shape—this is her size—”
“And this her voice,” I added. “She is all here: her heart, too. God bles_ou, sir! I am glad to be so near you again.”
“Jane Eyre!—Jane Eyre,” was all he said.
“My dear master,” I answered, “I am Jane Eyre: I have found you out—I am com_ack to you.”
“In truth?—in the flesh? My living Jane?”
“You touch me, sir,—you hold me, and fast enough: I am not cold like a corpse, nor vacant like air, am I?”
“My living darling! These are certainly her limbs, and these her features; but I cannot be so blest, after all my misery. It is a dream; such dreams a_ have had at night when I have clasped her once more to my heart, as I d_ow; and kissed her, as thus—and felt that she loved me, and trusted that sh_ould not leave me.”
“Which I never will, sir, from this day.”
“Never will, says the vision? But I always woke and found it an empt_ockery; and I was desolate and abandoned—my life dark, lonely, hopeless—m_oul athirst and forbidden to drink—my heart famished and never to be fed.
Gentle, soft dream, nestling in my arms now, you will fly, too, as you_isters have all fled before you: but kiss me before you go—embrace me, Jane.”
“There, sir—and there!”’
I pressed my lips to his once brilliant and now rayless eyes—I swept his hai_rom his brow, and kissed that too. He suddenly seemed to arouse himself: th_onviction of the reality of all this seized him.
“It is you—is it, Jane? You are come back to me then?”
“And you do not lie dead in some ditch under some stream? And you are not _ining outcast amongst strangers?”
“No, sir! I am an independent woman now.”
“Independent! What do you mean, Jane?”
“My uncle in Madeira is dead, and he left me five thousand pounds.”
“Ah! this is practical—this is real!” he cried: “I should never dream that.
Besides, there is that peculiar voice of hers, so animating and piquant, a_ell as soft: it cheers my withered heart; it puts life into it.—What, Janet!
Are you an independent woman? A rich woman?”
“If you won’t let me live with you, I can build a house of my own close up t_our door, and you may come and sit in my parlour when you want company of a_vening.”
“But as you are rich, Jane, you have now, no doubt, friends who will loo_fter you, and not suffer you to devote yourself to a blind lameter like me?”
“I told you I am independent, sir, as well as rich: I am my own mistress.”
“And you will stay with me?”
“Certainly—unless you object. I will be your neighbour, your nurse, you_ousekeeper. I find you lonely: I will be your companion—to read to you, t_alk with you, to sit with you, to wait on you, to be eyes and hands to you.
Cease to look so melancholy, my dear master; you shall not be left desolate, so long as I live.”
He replied not: he seemed serious—abstracted; he sighed; he half-opened hi_ips as if to speak: he closed them again. I felt a little embarrassed.
Perhaps I had too rashly over-leaped conventionalities; and he, like St. John, saw impropriety in my inconsiderateness. I had indeed made my proposal fro_he idea that he wished and would ask me to be his wife: an expectation, no_he less certain because unexpressed, had buoyed me up, that he would claim m_t once as his own. But no hint to that effect escaping him and hi_ountenance becoming more overcast, I suddenly remembered that I might hav_een all wrong, and was perhaps playing the fool unwittingly; and I bega_ently to withdraw myself from his arms—but he eagerly snatched me closer.
“No—no—Jane; you must not go. No—I have touched you, heard you, felt th_omfort of your presence—the sweetness of your consolation: I cannot give u_hese joys. I have little left in myself—I must have you. The world ma_augh—may call me absurd, selfish—but it does not signify. My very sou_emands you: it will be satisfied, or it will take deadly vengeance on it_rame.”
“Well, sir, I will stay with you: I have said so.”
“Yes—but you understand one thing by staying with me; and I understan_nother. You, perhaps, could make up your mind to be about my hand an_hair—to wait on me as a kind little nurse (for you have an affectionate hear_nd a generous spirit, which prompt you to make sacrifices for those yo_ity), and that ought to suffice for me no doubt. I suppose I should no_ntertain none but fatherly feelings for you: do you think so? Come—tell me.”
“I will think what you like, sir: I am content to be only your nurse, if yo_hink it better.”
“But you cannot always be my nurse, Janet: you are young—you must marry on_ay.”
“I don’t care about being married.”
“You should care, Janet: if I were what I once was, I would try to make yo_are—but—a sightless block!”
He relapsed again into gloom. I, on the contrary, became more cheerful, an_ook fresh courage: these last words gave me an insight as to where th_ifficulty lay; and as it was no difficulty with me, I felt quite relieve_rom my previous embarrassment. I resumed a livelier vein of conversation.
“It is time some one undertook to rehumanise you,” said I, parting his thic_nd long uncut locks; “for I see you are being metamorphosed into a lion, o_omething of that sort. You have a ‘faux air’ of Nebuchadnezzar in the field_bout you, that is certain: your hair reminds me of eagles’ feathers; whethe_our nails are grown like birds’ claws or not, I have not yet noticed.”
“On this arm, I have neither hand nor nails,” he said, drawing the mutilate_imb from his breast, and showing it to me. “It is a mere stump—a ghastl_ight! Don’t you think so, Jane?”
“It is a pity to see it; and a pity to see your eyes—and the scar of fire o_our forehead: and the worst of it is, one is in danger of loving you too wel_or all this; and making too much of you.”
“I thought you would be revolted, Jane, when you saw my arm, and my cicatrise_isage.”
“Did you? Don’t tell me so—lest I should say something disparaging to you_udgment. Now, let me leave you an instant, to make a better fire, and hav_he hearth swept up. Can you tell when there is a good fire?”
“Yes; with the right eye I see a glow—a ruddy haze.”
“And you see the candles?”
“Very dimly—each is a luminous cloud.”
“Can you see me?”
“No, my fairy: but I am only too thankful to hear and feel you.”
“When do you take supper?”
“I never take supper.”
“But you shall have some to-night. I am hungry: so are you, I daresay, onl_ou forget.”
Summoning Mary, I soon had the room in more cheerful order: I prepared him, likewise, a comfortable repast. My spirits were excited, and with pleasur_nd ease I talked to him during supper, and for a long time after. There wa_o harassing restraint, no repressing of glee and vivacity with him; for wit_im I was at perfect ease, because I knew I suited him; all I said or di_eemed either to console or revive him. Delightful consciousness! It brough_o life and light my whole nature: in his presence I thoroughly lived; and h_ived in mine. Blind as he was, smiles played over his face, joy dawned o_is forehead: his lineaments softened and warmed.
After supper, he began to ask me many questions, of where I had been, what _ad been doing, how I had found him out; but I gave him only very partia_eplies: it was too late to enter into particulars that night. Besides, _ished to touch no deep-thrilling chord—to open no fresh well of emotion i_is heart: my sole present aim was to cheer him. Cheered, as I have said, h_as: and yet but by fits. If a moment’s silence broke the conversation, h_ould turn restless, touch me, then say, “Jane.”
“You are altogether a human being, Jane? You are certain of that?”
“I conscientiously believe so, Mr. Rochester.”
“Yet how, on this dark and doleful evening, could you so suddenly rise on m_one hearth? I stretched my hand to take a glass of water from a hireling, and it was given me by you: I asked a question, expecting John’s wife t_nswer me, and your voice spoke at my ear.”
“Because I had come in, in Mary’s stead, with the tray.”
“And there is enchantment in the very hour I am now spending with you. Wh_an tell what a dark, dreary, hopeless life I have dragged on for months past?
Doing nothing, expecting nothing; merging night in day; feeling but th_ensation of cold when I let the fire go out, of hunger when I forgot to eat: and then a ceaseless sorrow, and, at times, a very delirium of desire t_ehold my Jane again. Yes: for her restoration I longed, far more than fo_hat of my lost sight. How can it be that Jane is with me, and says she love_e? Will she not depart as suddenly as she came? To-morrow, I fear I shal_ind her no more.”
A commonplace, practical reply, out of the train of his own disturbed ideas, was, I was sure, the best and most reassuring for him in this frame of mind.
I passed my finger over his eyebrows, and remarked that they were scorched, and that I would apply something which would make them grow as broad and blac_s ever.
“Where is the use of doing me good in any way, beneficent spirit, when, a_ome fatal moment, you will again desert me—passing like a shadow, whither an_ow to me unknown, and for me remaining afterwards undiscoverable?
“Have you a pocket-comb about you, sir?”
“What for, Jane?”
“Just to comb out this shaggy black mane. I find you rather alarming, when _xamine you close at hand: you talk of my being a fairy, but I am sure, yo_re more like a brownie.”
“Am I hideous, Jane?”
“Very, sir: you always were, you know.”
“Humph! The wickedness has not been taken out of you, wherever you hav_ojourned.”
“Yet I have been with good people; far better than you: a hundred times bette_eople; possessed of ideas and views you never entertained in your life: quit_ore refined and exalted.”
“Who the deuce have you been with?”
“If you twist in that way you will make me pull the hair out of your head; an_hen I think you will cease to entertain doubts of my substantiality.”
“Who have you been with, Jane?”
“You shall not get it out of me to-night, sir; you must wait till to-morrow; to leave my tale half told, will, you know, be a sort of security that I shal_ppear at your breakfast table to finish it. By the bye, I must mind not t_ise on your hearth with only a glass of water then: I must bring an egg a_he least, to say nothing of fried ham.”
“You mocking changeling—fairy-born and human-bred! You make me feel as I hav_ot felt these twelve months. If Saul could have had you for his David, th_vil spirit would have been exorcised without the aid of the harp.”
“There, sir, you are redd up and made decent. Now I’ll leave you: I have bee_ravelling these last three days, and I believe I am tired. Good night.”
“Just one word, Jane: were there only ladies in the house where you hav_een?”
I laughed and made my escape, still laughing as I ran upstairs. “A goo_dea!” I thought with glee. “I see I have the means of fretting him out o_is melancholy for some time to come.”
Very early the next morning I heard him up and astir, wandering from one roo_o another. As soon as Mary came down I heard the question: “Is Miss Eyr_ere?” Then: “Which room did you put her into? Was it dry? Is she up? G_nd ask if she wants anything; and when she will come down.”
I came down as soon as I thought there was a prospect of breakfast. Enterin_he room very softly, I had a view of him before he discovered my presence.
It was mournful, indeed, to witness the subjugation of that vigorous spirit t_ corporeal infirmity. He sat in his chair—still, but not at rest: expectan_vidently; the lines of now habitual sadness marking his strong features. Hi_ountenance reminded one of a lamp quenched, waiting to be re-lit—and alas! i_as not himself that could now kindle the lustre of animated expression: h_as dependent on another for that office! I had meant to be gay and careless, but the powerlessness of the strong man touched my heart to the quick: still _ccosted him with what vivacity I could.
“It is a bright, sunny morning, sir,” I said. “The rain is over and gone, an_here is a tender shining after it: you shall have a walk soon.”
I had wakened the glow: his features beamed.
“Oh, you are indeed there, my skylark! Come to me. You are not gone: no_anished? 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. Al_he melody on earth is concentrated in my Jane’s tongue to my ear (I am gla_t is not naturally a silent one): all the sunshine I can feel is in he_resence.”
The water stood in my eyes to hear this avowal of his dependence; just as if _oyal eagle, chained to a perch, should be forced to entreat a sparrow t_ecome its purveyor. But I would not be lachrymose: I dashed off the sal_rops, and busied myself with preparing breakfast.
Most of the morning was spent in the open air. I led him out of the wet an_ild wood into some cheerful fields: I described to him how brilliantly gree_hey were; how the flowers and hedges looked refreshed; how sparklingly blu_as the sky. I sought a seat for him in a hidden and lovely spot, a dry stum_f a tree; nor did I refuse to let him, when seated, place me on his knee.
Why should I, when both he and I were happier near than apart? Pilot la_eside us: all was quiet. He broke out suddenly while clasping me in hi_rms—
“Cruel, cruel deserter! Oh, Jane, what did I feel when I discovered you ha_led from Thornfield, and when I could nowhere find you; and, after examinin_our apartment, ascertained that you had taken no money, nor anything whic_ould serve as an equivalent! A pearl necklace I had given you lay untouche_n its little casket; your trunks were left corded and locked as they had bee_repared for the bridal tour. What could my darling do, I asked, lef_estitute and penniless? And what did she do? Let me hear now.”
Thus urged, I began the narrative of my experience for the last year. _oftened considerably what related to the three days of wandering an_tarvation, because to have told him all would have been to inflic_nnecessary pain: the little I did say lacerated his faithful heart deepe_han I wished.
I should not have left him thus, he said, without any means of making my way: I should have told him my intention. I should have confided in him: he woul_ever have forced me to be his mistress. Violent as he had seemed in hi_espair, he, in truth, loved me far too well and too tenderly to constitut_imself my tyrant: he would have given me half his fortune, without demandin_o much as a kiss in return, rather than I should have flung myself friendles_n the wide world. I had endured, he was certain, more than I had confesse_o him.
“Well, whatever my sufferings had been, they were very short,” I answered: an_hen I proceeded to tell him how I had been received at Moor House; how I ha_btained the office of schoolmistress, &c. The accession of fortune, th_iscovery of my relations, followed in due order. Of course, St. John Rivers’ name came in frequently in the progress of my tale. When I had done, tha_ame was immediately taken up.
“This St. John, then, is your cousin?”
“You have spoken of him often: do you like him?”
“He was a very good man, sir; I could not help liking him.”
“A good man. Does that mean a respectable well-conducted man of fifty? O_hat does it mean?”
“St John was only twenty-nine, sir.”
“‘ _Jeune encore_ ,’ as the French say. Is he a person of low stature, phlegmatic, and plain. A person whose goodness consists rather in hi_uiltlessness of vice, than in his prowess in virtue.”
“He is untiringly active. Great and exalted deeds are what he lives t_erform.”
“But his brain? That is probably rather soft? He means well: but you shru_our shoulders to hear him talk?”
“He talks little, sir: what he does say is ever to the point. His brain i_irst-rate, I should think not impressible, but vigorous.”
“Is he an able man, then?”
“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 a very bad taste, they mus_uit it; they are polished, calm, and gentlemanlike.”
“His appearance,—I forget what description you gave of his appearance;—a sor_f raw curate, half strangled with his white neckcloth, and stilted up on hi_hick-soled high-lows, eh?”
“St. John dresses well. He is a handsome man: tall, fair, with blue eyes, an_ Grecian profile.”
(Aside.) “Damn him!”—(To me.) “Did you like him, Jane?”
“Yes, Mr. Rochester, I liked him: but you asked me that before.”
I perceived, of course, the drift of my interlocutor. Jealousy had got hol_f him: she stung him; but the sting was salutary: it gave him respite fro_he gnawing fang of melancholy. I would not, therefore, immediately charm th_nake.
“Perhaps you would rather not sit any longer on my knee, Miss Eyre?” was th_ext somewhat unexpected observation.
“Why not, Mr. Rochester?”
“The picture you have just drawn is suggestive of a rather too overwhelmin_ontrast. Your words have delineated very prettily a graceful Apollo: he i_resent to your imagination,—tall, fair, blue-eyed, and with a Grecia_rofile. Your eyes dwell on a Vulcan,—a real blacksmith, brown, broad- shouldered: and blind and lame into the bargain.”
“I never thought of it, before; but you certainly are rather like Vulcan, sir.”
“Well, you can leave me, ma’am: but before you go” (and he retained me by _irmer grasp than ever), “you will be pleased just to answer me a question o_wo.” He paused.
“What questions, Mr. Rochester?”
Then followed this cross-examination.
“St. John made you schoolmistress of Morton before he knew you were hi_ousin?”
“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 yo_re 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 don’t know about that.”
“You had a little cottage near the school, you say: did he ever come there t_ee you?”
“Now and then?”
“Of an evening?”
“Once or twice.”
“How long did you reside with him and his sisters after the cousinship wa_iscovered?”
“Did Rivers spend much time with the ladies of his family?”
“Yes; the back parlour was both his study and ours: he sat near the window, and we by the table.”
“Did he study much?”
“A good deal.”
“And what did you do meantime?”
“I learnt German, at first.”
“Did he teach you?”
“He did not understand German.”
“Did he teach you nothing?”
“A little Hindostanee.”
“Rivers taught you Hindostanee?”
“And his sisters also?”
“Did you ask to learn?”
“He wished to teach you?”
A second pause.
“Why did he wish it? Of what use could Hindostanee be to you?”
“He intended me to go with him to India.”
“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.”
“I beg your pardon, it is the literal truth: he asked me more than once, an_as 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 sam_hing? Why do you remain pertinaciously perched on my knee, when I have give_ou notice to quit?”
“Because I am comfortable there.”
“No, Jane, 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 m_ittle 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, ho_ears as I have wept over our separation, I never thought that while I wa_ourning 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 ow_ccord.”
“Jane, I ever like your tone of voice: it still renews hope, it sounds s_ruthful. When I hear it, it carries me back a year. I forget that you hav_ormed a new tie. But I am not a fool—go—”
“Where must I go, sir?”
“Your own way—with the husband you have chosen.”
“Who is that?”
“You know—this St. John Rivers.”
“He is not my husband, nor ever will be. He does not love me: I do not lov_im. He loves (as he _can_ love, and that is not as you love) a beautifu_oung lady called Rosamond. He wanted to marry me only because he thought _hould make a suitable missionary’s wife, which she would not have done. H_s good and great, but severe; and, for me, cold as an iceberg. He is no_ike you, sir: I am not happy at his side, nor near him, nor with him. He ha_o indulgence for me—no fondness. He sees nothing attractive in me; not eve_outh—only a few useful mental points.—Then I must leave you, sir, to go t_im?”
I shuddered involuntarily, and clung instinctively closer to my blind bu_eloved master. He smiled.
“What, Jane! Is this true? Is such really the state of matters between yo_nd Rivers?”
“Absolutely, sir! Oh, you need not be jealous! I wanted to tease you _ittle to make you less sad: I thought anger would be better than grief. Bu_f you wish me to love you, could you but see how much I _do_ love you, yo_ould be proud and content. All my heart is yours, sir: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from you_resence for ever.”
Again, as he kissed me, painful thoughts darkened his aspect.
“My seared vision! My crippled strength!” he murmured regretfully.
I caressed, in order to soothe him. I knew of what he was thinking, an_anted to speak for him, but dared not. As he turned aside his face a minute, I saw a tear slide from under the sealed eyelid, and trickle down the manl_heek. My heart swelled.
“I am no better than the old lightning-struck chestnut-tree in Thornfiel_rchard,” he remarked ere long. “And what right would that ruin have to bid _udding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?”
“You are no ruin, sir—no lightning-struck tree: you are green and vigorous.
Plants will grow about your roots, whether you ask them or not, because the_ake delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean toward_ou, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop.”
Again he smiled: I gave him comfort.
“You speak of friends, Jane?” he asked.
“Yes, of friends,” I answered rather hesitatingly: for I knew I meant mor_han friends, but could not tell what other word to employ. He helped me.
“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_.”
“I will at least choose— _her I love best_. Jane, will you marry me?”
“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?”
“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 goo_hought—if ever I prayed a sincere and blameless prayer—if ever I wished _ighteous wish,—I am rewarded now. To be your wife is, for me, to be as happ_s I can be on earth.”
“Because you delight in sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice! 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 _ove—to repose on what I trust: is that to make a sacrifice? If so, the_ertainly I delight in sacrifice.”
“And to bear with my infirmities, Jane: to overlook my deficiencies.”
“Which are none, sir, to me. I love you better now, when I can really b_seful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when yo_isdained every part but that of the giver and protector.”
“Hitherto I have hated to be helped—to be led: henceforth, I feel I shall hat_t no more. I did not like to put my hand into a hireling’s, but it i_leasant to feel it circled by Jane’s little fingers. I preferred utte_oneliness to the constant attendance of servants; but Jane’s soft ministr_ill be a perpetual joy. Jane suits me: do I suit her?”
“To the finest fibre of my nature, sir.”
“The case being so, we have nothing in the world to wait for: we must b_arried instantly.”
He looked and spoke with eagerness: his old impetuosity was rising.
“We must become one flesh without any delay, Jane: there is but the licence t_et—then we marry.”
“Mr. Rochester, I have just discovered the sun is far declined from it_eridian, and Pilot is actually gone home to his dinner. Let me look at you_atch.”
“Fasten it into your girdle, Janet, and keep it henceforward: I have no us_or 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 fin_lothes 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 i_uite hot.”
“Do you know, Jane, I have your little pearl necklace at this moment fastene_ound my bronze scrag under my cravat? I have worn it since the day I lost m_nly treasure, as a memento of her.”
“We will go home through the wood: that will be the shadiest way.”
He pursued his own thoughts without heeding me.
“Jane! you think me, I daresay, an irreligious dog: but my heart swells wit_ratitude to the beneficent God of this earth just now. He sees not as ma_ees, but far clearer: judges not as man judges, but far more wisely. I di_rong: I would have sullied my innocent flower—breathed guilt on its purity: the Omnipotent snatched it from me. I, in my stiff-necked rebellion, almos_ursed the dispensation: instead of bending to the decree, I defied it.
Divine justice pursued its course; disasters came thick on me: I was forced t_ass through the valley of the shadow of death. _His_ chastisements ar_ighty; and one smote me which has humbled me for ever. You know I was prou_f my strength: but what is it now, when I must give it over to foreig_uidance, as a child does its weakness? Of late, Jane—only—only of late—_egan to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began t_xperience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. _egan 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, _ingular mood came over me: one in which grief replaced frenzy—sorrow, sullenness. I had long had the impression that since I could nowhere fin_ou, you must be dead. Late that night—perhaps it might be between eleven an_welve o’clock—ere I retired to my dreary rest, I supplicated God, that, if i_eemed good to Him, I might soon be taken from this life, and admitted to tha_orld 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 soothe_e to feel the balmy night-air; though I could see no stars and only by _ague, 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 i_nguish and humility, if I had not been long enough desolate, afflicted, tormented; and might not soon taste bliss and peace once more. That I merite_ll 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 lip_n the words—‘Jane! Jane! Jane!’”
“Did you speak these words aloud?”
“I did, Jane. If any listener had heard me, he would have thought me mad: _ronounced 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, an_lways had: nevertheless, this is true—true at least it is that I heard what _ow relate.
“As I exclaimed ‘Jane! Jane! Jane!’ a voice—I cannot tell whence the voic_ame, but I know whose voice it was—replied, ‘I am coming: wait for me;’ and _oment 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, a_ou see, in a heavy wood, where sound falls dull, and dies unreverberating.
‘Where are you?’ seemed spoken amongst mountains; for I heard a hill-sent ech_epeat the words. Cooler and fresher at the moment the gale seemed to visi_y brow: I could have deemed that in some wild, lone scene, I and Jane wer_eeting. In spirit, I believe we must have met. You no doubt were, at tha_our, in unconscious sleep, Jane: perhaps your soul wandered from its cell t_omfort mine; for those were your accents—as certain as I live—they wer_ours!”
Reader, it was on Monday night—near midnight—that I too had received th_ysterious summons: those were the very words by which I replied to it. _istened to Mr. Rochester’s narrative, but made no disclosure in return. Th_oincidence struck me as too awful and inexplicable to be communicated o_iscussed. If I told anything, my tale would be such as must necessarily mak_ profound impression on the mind of my hearer: and that mind, yet from it_ufferings too prone to gloom, needed not the deeper shade of th_upernatural. I kept these things then, and pondered them in my heart.
“You cannot now wonder,” continued my master, “that when you rose upon me s_nexpectedly last night, I had difficulty in believing you any other than _ere voice and vision, something that would melt to silence and annihilation, as the midnight whisper and mountain echo had melted before. Now, I than_od! I know it to be otherwise. Yes, I thank God!”
He put me off his knee, rose, and reverently lifting his hat from his brow, and bending his sightless eyes to the earth, he stood in mute devotion. Onl_he last words of the worship were audible.
“I thank my Maker, that, in the midst of judgment, he has remembered mercy. _umbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer lif_han I have done hitherto!”
Then he stretched his hand out to be led. I took that dear hand, held it _oment to my lips, then let it pass round my shoulder: being so much lower o_tature than he, I served both for his prop and guide. We entered the wood, and wended homeward.