Part 8 out of 11
husband, and corpulent besides: she showed virile force in the
contest -- more than once she almost throttled him, athletic as
he was. He could have settled her with a well-planted blow; but
he would not strike: he would only wrestle. At last he mastered
her arms; Grace Poole gave him a cord, and he pinioned them behind
her: with more rope, which was at hand, he bound her to a chair.
The operation was performed amidst the fiercest yells and the most
convulsive plunges. Mr. Rochester then turned to the spectators:
he looked at them with a smile both acrid and desolate.
"That is MY WIFE," said he. "Such is the sole conjugal embrace
I am ever to know -- such are the endearments which are to solace
my leisure hours! And THIS is what I wished to have" (laying his
hand on my shoulder): "this young girl, who stands so grave and
quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of
a demon, I wanted her just as a change after that fierce ragout.
Wood and Briggs, look at the difference! Compare these clear eyes
with the red balls yonder -- this face with that mask -- this form
with that bulk; then judge me, priest of the gospel and man of the
law, and remember with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged!
Off with you now. I must shut up my prize."
We all withdrew. Mr. Rochester stayed a moment behind us, to give
some further order to Grace Poole. The solicitor addressed me as
he descended the stair.
"You, madam," said he, "are cleared from all blame: your uncle
will be glad to hear it -- if, indeed, he should be still living
-- when Mr. Mason returns to Madeira."
"My uncle! What of him? Do you know him?"
"Mr. Mason does. Mr. Eyre has been the Funchal correspondent of
his house for some years. When your uncle received your letter
intimating the contemplated union between yourself and Mr. Rochester,
Mr. Mason, who was staying at Madeira to recruit his health, on his
way back to Jamaica, happened to be with him. Mr. Eyre mentioned
the intelligence; for he knew that my client here was acquainted
with a gentleman of the name of Rochester. Mr. Mason, astonished
and distressed as you may suppose, revealed the real state of
matters. Your uncle, I am sorry to say, is now on a sick bed; from
which, considering the nature of his disease -- decline -- and the
stage it has reached, it is unlikely he will ever rise. He could
not then hasten to England himself, to extricate you from the snare
into which you had fallen, but he implored Mr. Mason to lose no
time in taking steps to prevent the false marriage. He referred
him to me for assistance. I used all despatch, and am thankful
I was not too late: as you, doubtless, must be also. Were I not
morally certain that your uncle will be dead ere you reach Madeira,
I would advise you to accompany Mr. Mason back; but as it is, I
think you had better remain in England till you can hear further,
either from or of Mr. Eyre. Have we anything else to stay for?"
he inquired of Mr. Mason.
"No, no -- let us be gone," was the anxious reply; and without
waiting to take leave of Mr. Rochester, they made their exit at
the hall door. The clergyman stayed to exchange a few sentences,
either of admonition or reproof, with his haughty parishioner; this
duty done, he too departed.
I heard him go as I stood at the half-open door of my own room, to
which I had now withdrawn. The house cleared, I shut myself in,
fastened the bolt that none might intrude, and proceeded -- not to
weep, not to mourn, I was yet too calm for that, but -- mechanically
to take off the wedding dress, and replace it by the stuff gown I
had worn yesterday, as I thought, for the last time. I then sat
down: I felt weak and tired. I leaned my arms on a table, and
my head dropped on them. And now I thought: till now I had only
heard, seen, moved -- followed up and down where I was led or dragged
-- watched event rush on event, disclosure open beyond disclosure:
but NOW, I THOUGHT.
The morning had been a quiet morning enough -- all except the brief
scene with the lunatic: the transaction in the church had not been
noisy; there was no explosion of passion, no loud altercation, no
dispute, no defiance or challenge, no tears, no sobs: a few words
had been spoken, a calmly pronounced objection to the marriage
made; some stern, short questions put by Mr. Rochester; answers,
explanations given, evidence adduced; an open admission of the
truth had been uttered by my master; then the living proof had been
seen; the intruders were gone, and all was over.
I was in my own room as usual -- just myself, without obvious
change: nothing had smitten me, or scathed me, or maimed me. And
yet where was the Jane Eyre of yesterday? -- where was her life?
-- where were her prospects?
Jane Eyre, who had been an ardent, expectant woman -- almost
a bride, was a cold, solitary girl again: her life was pale; her
prospects were desolate. A Christmas frost had come at midsummer;
a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe
apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hayfield and cornfield lay
a frozen shroud: lanes which last night blushed full of flowers,
to-day were pathless with untrodden snow; and the woods, which
twelve hours since waved leafy and flagrant as groves between the
tropics, now spread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests in wintry
Norway. My hopes were all dead -- struck with a subtle doom, such
as, in one night, fell on all the first-born in the land of Egypt.
I looked on my cherished wishes, yesterday so blooming and glowing;
they lay stark, chill, livid corpses that could never revive. I
looked at my love: that feeling which was my master's -- which he
had created; it shivered in my heart, like a suffering child in a
cold cradle; sickness and anguish had seized it; it could not seek
Mr. Rochester's arms -- it could not derive warmth from his breast.
Oh, never more could it turn to him; for faith was blighted
-- confidence destroyed! Mr. Rochester was not to me what he had
been; for he was not what I had thought him. I would not ascribe
vice to him; I would not say he had betrayed me; but the attribute
of stainless truth was gone from his idea, and from his presence I
must go: THAT I perceived well. When -- how -- whither, I could
not yet discern; but he himself, I doubted not, would hurry me from
Thornfield. Real affection, it seemed, he could not have for me;
it had been only fitful passion: that was balked; he would want me
no more. I should fear even to cross his path now: my view must
be hateful to him. Oh, how blind had been my eyes! How weak my
My eyes were covered and closed: eddying darkness seemed to swim
round me, and reflection came in as black and confused a flow.
Self-abandoned, relaxed, and effortless, I seemed to have laid me
down in the dried-up bed of a great river; I heard a flood loosened
in remote mountains, and felt the torrent come: to rise I had no
will, to flee I had no strength. I lay faint, longing to be dead.
One idea only still throbbed life-like within me -- a remembrance
of God: it begot an unuttered prayer: these words went wandering
up and down in my rayless mind, as something that should
be whispered, but no energy was found to express them -
"Be not far from me, for trouble is near: there is none to help."
It was near: and as I had lifted no petition to Heaven to avert it
-- as I had neither joined my hands, nor bent my knees, nor moved
my lips -- it came: in full heavy swing the torrent poured over
me. The whole consciousness of my life lorn, my love lost, my
hope quenched, my faith death-struck, swayed full and mighty above
me in one sullen mass. That bitter hour cannot be described: in
truth, "the waters came into my soul; I sank in deep mire: I felt
no standing; I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me."
Some time in the afternoon I raised my head, and looking round
and seeing the western sun gilding the sign of its decline on the
wall, I asked, "What am I to do?"
But the answer my mind gave -- "Leave Thornfield at once" -- was
so prompt, so dread, that I stopped my ears. I said I could not
bear such words now. "That I am not Edward Rochester's bride is
the least part of my woe," I alleged: "that I have wakened out of
most glorious dreams, and found them all void and vain, is a horror
I could bear and master; but that I must leave him decidedly,
instantly, entirely, is intolerable. I cannot do it."
But, then, a voice within me averred that I could do it and foretold
that I should do it. I wrestled with my own resolution: I wanted
to be weak that I might avoid the awful passage of further suffering
I saw laid out for me; and Conscience, turned tyrant, held Passion
by the throat, told her tauntingly, she had yet but dipped her
dainty foot in the slough, and swore that with that arm of iron he
would thrust her down to unsounded depths of agony.
"Let me be torn away," then I cried. "Let another help me!"
"No; you shall tear yourself away, none shall help you: you shall
yourself pluck out your right eye; yourself cut off your right hand:
your heart shall be the victim, and you the priest to transfix it."
I rose up suddenly, terror-struck at the solitude which so ruthless
a judge haunted, -- at the silence which so awful a voice filled.
My head swam as I stood erect. I perceived that I was sickening
from excitement and inanition; neither meat nor drink had passed my
lips that day, for I had taken no breakfast. And, with a strange
pang, I now reflected that, long as I had been shut up here, no
message had been sent to ask how I was, or to invite me to come
down: not even little Adele had tapped at the door; not even Mrs.
Fairfax had sought me. "Friends always forget those whom fortune
forsakes," I murmured, as I undrew the bolt and passed out. I
stumbled over an obstacle: my head was still dizzy, my sight was
dim, and my limbs were feeble. I could not soon recover myself.
I fell, but not on to the ground: an outstretched arm caught me.
I looked up -- I was supported by Mr. Rochester, who sat in a chair
across my chamber threshold.
"You come out at last," he said. "Well, I have been waiting for
you long, and listening: yet not one movement have I heard, nor
one sob: five minutes more of that death-like hush, and I should
have forced the lock like a burglar. So you shun me? -- you shut
yourself up and grieve alone! I would rather you had come and
upbraided me with vehemence. You are passionate. I expected a
scene of some kind. I was prepared for the hot rain of tears; only
I wanted them to be shed on my breast: now a senseless floor has
received them, or your drenched handkerchief. But I err: you have
not wept at all! I see a white cheek and a faded eye, but no trace
of tears. I suppose, then, your heart has been weeping blood?"
"Well, Jane! not a word of reproach? Nothing bitter -- nothing
poignant? Nothing to cut a feeling or sting a passion? You sit
quietly where I have placed you, and regard me with a weary, passive
"Jane, I never meant to wound you thus. If the man who had but
one little ewe lamb that was dear to him as a daughter, that ate of
his bread and drank of his cup, and lay in his bosom, had by some
mistake slaughtered it at the shambles, he would not have rued his
bloody blunder more than I now rue mine. Will you ever forgive
Reader, I forgave him at the moment and on the spot. There was
such deep remorse in his eye, such true pity in his tone, such
manly energy in his manner; and besides, there was such unchanged
love in his whole look and mien -- I forgave him all: yet not in
words, not outwardly; only at my heart's core.
"You know I am a scoundrel, Jane?" ere long he inquired wistfully
-- wondering, I suppose, at my continued silence and tameness, the
result rather of weakness than of will.
"Then tell me so roundly and sharply -- don't spare me."
"I cannot: I am tired and sick. I want some water." He heaved
a sort of shuddering sigh, and taking me in his arms, carried me
downstairs. At first I did not know to what room he had borne me;
all was cloudy to my glazed sight: presently I felt the reviving
warmth of a fire; for, summer as it was, I had become icy cold in
my chamber. He put wine to my lips; I tasted it and revived; then
I ate something he offered me, and was soon myself. I was in the
library -- sitting in his chair -- he was quite near. "If I could
go out of life now, without too sharp a pang, it would be well
for me," I thought; "then I should not have to make the effort of
cracking my heart-strings in rending them from among Mr. Rochester's.
I must leave him, it appears. I do not want to leave him -- I
cannot leave him."
"How are you now, Jane?"
"Much better, sir; I shall be well soon."
"Taste the wine again, Jane."
I obeyed him; then he put the glass on the table, stood before me,
and looked at me attentively. Suddenly he turned away, with an
inarticulate exclamation, full of passionate emotion of some kind;
he walked fast through the room and came back; he stooped towards
me as if to kiss me; but I remembered caresses were now forbidden.
I turned my face away and put his aside.
"What! -- How is this?" he exclaimed hastily. "Oh, I know! you
won't kiss the husband of Bertha Mason? You consider my arms filled
and my embraces appropriated?"
"At any rate, there is neither room nor claim for me, sir."
"Why, Jane? I will spare you the trouble of much talking; I will
answer for you -- Because I have a wife already, you would reply.
-- I guess rightly?"
"If you think so, you must have a strange opinion of me; you must
regard me as a plotting profligate -- a base and low rake who
has been simulating disinterested love in order to draw you into
a snare deliberately laid, and strip you of honour and rob you of
self- respect. What do you say to that? I see you can say nothing
in the first place, you are faint still, and have enough to do
to draw your breath; in the second place, you cannot yet accustom
yourself to accuse and revile me, and besides, the flood-gates of
tears are opened, and they would rush out if you spoke much; and
you have no desire to expostulate, to upbraid, to make a scene:
you are thinking how TO ACT -- TALKING you consider is of no use.
I know you -- I am on my guard."
"Sir, I do not wish to act against you," I said; and my unsteady
voice warned me to curtail my sentence.
"Not in your sense of the word, but in mine you are scheming to
destroy me. You have as good as said that I am a married man --
as a married man you will shun me, keep out of my way: just now
you have refused to kiss me. You intend to make yourself a complete
stranger to me: to live under this roof only as Adele's governess;
if ever I say a friendly word to you, if ever a friendly feeling
inclines you again to me, you will say, -- 'That man had nearly
made me his mistress: I must be ice and rock to him;' and ice and
rock you will accordingly become."
I cleared and steadied my voice to reply: "All is changed about me,
sir; I must change too -- there is no doubt of that; and to avoid
fluctuations of feeling, and continual combats with recollections
and associations, there is only one way -- Adele must have a new
"Oh, Adele will go to school -- I have settled that already; nor do
I mean to torment you with the hideous associations and recollections
of Thornfield Hall -- this accursed place -- this tent of Achan --
this insolent vault, offering the ghastliness of living death to
the light of the open sky -- this narrow stone hell, with its one
real fiend, worse than a legion of such as we imagine. Jane, you
shall not stay here, nor will I. I was wrong ever to bring you to
Thornfield Hall, knowing as I did how it was haunted. I charged
them to conceal from you, before I ever saw you, all knowledge of
the curse of the place; merely because I feared Adele never would
have a governess to stay if she knew with what inmate she was housed,
and my plans would not permit me to remove the maniac elsewhere --
though I possess an old house, Ferndean Manor, even more retired
and hidden than this, where I could have lodged her safely enough,
had not a scruple about the unhealthiness of the situation, in the
heart of a wood, made my conscience recoil from the arrangement.
Probably those damp walls would soon have eased me of her charge:
but to each villain his own vice; and mine is not a tendency to
indirect assassination, even of what I most hate.
"Concealing the mad-woman's neighbourhood from you, however, was
something like covering a child with a cloak and laying it down
near a upas-tree: that demon's vicinage is poisoned, and always
was. But I'll shut up Thornfield Hall: I'll nail up the front
door and board the lower windows: I'll give Mrs. Poole two hundred
a year to live here with MY WIFE, as you term that fearful hag:
Grace will do much for money, and she shall have her son, the keeper
at Grimsby Retreat, to bear her company and be at hand to give her
aid in the paroxysms, when MY WIFE is prompted by her familiar to
burn people in their beds at night, to stab them, to bite
their flesh from their bones, and so on -- "
"Sir," I interrupted him, "you are inexorable for that unfortunate
lady: you speak of her with hate -- with vindictive antipathy.
It is cruel -- she cannot help being mad."
"Jane, my little darling (so I will call you, for so you are), you
don't know what you are talking about; you misjudge me again: it
is not because she is mad I hate her. If you were mad, do you
think I should hate you?"
"I do indeed, sir."
"Then you are mistaken, and you know nothing about me, and nothing
about the sort of love of which I am capable. Every atom of your
flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would
still be dear. Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it
would be my treasure still: if you raved, my arms should confine
you, and not a strait waistcoat -- your grasp, even in fury, would
have a charm for me: if you flew at me as wildly as that woman
did this morning, I should receive you in an embrace, at least as
fond as it would be restrictive. I should not shrink from you with
disgust as I did from her: in your quiet moments you should have
no watcher and no nurse but me; and I could hang over you with
untiring tenderness, though you gave me no smile in return; and
never weary of gazing into your eyes, though they had no longer
a ray of recognition for me. -- But why do I follow that train of
ideas? I was talking of removing you from Thornfield. All, you
know, is prepared for prompt departure: to-morrow you shall go. I
only ask you to endure one more night under this roof, Jane; and
then, farewell to its miseries and terrors for ever! I have a
place to repair to, which will be a secure sanctuary from hateful
reminiscences, from unwelcome intrusion -- even from falsehood and
"And take Adele with you, sir," I interrupted; "she will be a
companion for you."
"What do you mean, Jane? I told you I would send Adele to school;
and what do I want with a child for a companion, and not my own
child, -- a French dancer's bastard? Why do you importune me about
her! I say, why do you assign Adele to me for a companion?"
"You spoke of a retirement, sir; and retirement and solitude are
dull: too dull for you."
"Solitude! solitude!" he reiterated with irritation. "I see I must
come to an explanation. I don't know what sphynx-like expression
is forming in your countenance. You are to share my solitude. Do
I shook my head: it required a degree of courage, excited as he
was becoming, even to risk that mute sign of dissent. He had been
walking fast about the room, and he stopped, as if suddenly rooted
to one spot. He looked at me long and hard: I turned my eyes
from him, fixed them on the fire, and tried to assume and maintain
a quiet, collected aspect.
"Now for the hitch in Jane's character," he said at last, speaking
more calmly than from his look I had expected him to speak. "The
reel of silk has run smoothly enough so far; but I always knew there
would come a knot and a puzzle: here it is. Now for vexation,
and exasperation, and endless trouble! By God! I long to exert
a fraction of Samson's strength, and break the entanglement like
He recommenced his walk, but soon again stopped, and this time just
"Jane! will you hear reason?" (he stooped and approached his
lips to my ear); "because, if you won't, I'll try violence." His
voice was hoarse; his look that of a man who is just about to
burst an insufferable bond and plunge headlong into wild license.
I saw that in another moment, and with one impetus of frenzy more,
I should be able to do nothing with him. The present -- the passing
second of time -- was all I had in which to control and restrain
him -- a movement of repulsion, flight, fear would have sealed my
doom, -- and his. But I was not afraid: not in the least. I felt
an inward power; a sense of influence, which supported me. The
crisis was perilous; but not without its charm: such as the Indian,
perhaps, feels when he slips over the rapid in his canoe. I took
hold of his clenched hand, loosened the contorted fingers,
and said to him, soothingly -
"Sit down; I'll talk to you as long as you like, and hear all you
have to say, whether reasonable or unreasonable."
He sat down: but he did not get leave to speak directly. I had
been struggling with tears for some time: I had taken great pains
to repress them, because I knew he would not like to see me weep.
Now, however, I considered it well to let them flow as freely
and as long as they liked. If the flood annoyed him, so much the
better. So I gave way and cried heartily.
Soon I heard him earnestly entreating me to be composed. I said
I could not while he was in such a passion.
"But I am not angry, Jane: I only love you too well; and you had
steeled your little pale face with such a resolute, frozen look,
I could not endure it. Hush, now, and wipe your eyes."
His softened voice announced that he was subdued; so I, in my
turn, became calm. Now he made an effort to rest his head on my
shoulder, but I would not permit it. Then he would draw me to him:
"Jane! Jane!" he said, in such an accent of bitter sadness it
thrilled along every nerve I had; "you don't love me, then? It
was only my station, and the rank of my wife, that you valued? Now
that you think me disqualified to become your husband, you recoil
from my touch as if I were some toad or ape."
These words cut me: yet what could I do or I say? I ought probably
to have done or said nothing; but I was so tortured by a sense of
remorse at thus hurting his feelings, I could not control the wish
to drop balm where I had wounded.
"I DO love you," I said, "more than ever: but I must not show or
indulge the feeling: and this is the last time I must express it."
"The last time, Jane! What! do you think you can live with me,
and see me daily, and yet, if you still love me, be always cold
"No, sir; that I am certain I could not; and therefore I see there
is but one way: but you will be furious if I mention it."
"Oh, mention it! If I storm, you have the art of weeping."
"Mr. Rochester, I must leave you."
"For how long, Jane? For a few minutes, while you smooth your
hair -- which is somewhat dishevelled; and bathe your face -- which
"I must leave Adele and Thornfield. I must part with you for my
whole life: I must begin a new existence among strange faces and
"Of course: I told you you should. I pass over the madness about
parting from me. You mean you must become a part of me. As to
the new existence, it is all right: you shall yet be my wife: I
am not married. You shall be Mrs. Rochester -- both virtually and
nominally. I shall keep only to you so long as you and I live. You
shall go to a place I have in the south of France: a whitewashed
villa on the shores of the Mediterranean. There you shall live
a happy, and guarded, and most innocent life. Never fear that I
wish to lure you into error -- to make you my mistress. Why did
you shake your head? Jane, you must be reasonable, or in truth I
shall again become frantic."
His voice and hand quivered: his large nostrils dilated; his eye
blazed: still I dared to speak.
"Sir, your wife is living: that is a fact acknowledged this morning
by yourself. If I lived with you as you desire, I should then be
your mistress: to say otherwise is sophistical -- is false."
"Jane, I am not a gentle-tempered man -- you forget that: I am
not long-enduring; I am not cool and dispassionate. Out of pity to
me and yourself, put your finger on my pulse, feel how it throbs,
and -- beware!"
He bared his wrist, and offered it to me: the blood was forsaking
his cheek and lips, they were growing livid; I was distressed on all
hands. To agitate him thus deeply, by a resistance he so abhorred,
was cruel: to yield was out of the question. I did what human
beings do instinctively when they are driven to utter extremity --
looked for aid to one higher than man: the words "God help me!"
burst involuntarily from my lips.
"I am a fool!" cried Mr. Rochester suddenly. "I keep telling
her I am not married, and do not explain to her why. I forget she
knows nothing of the character of that woman, or of the circumstances
attending my infernal union with her. Oh, I am certain Jane will
agree with me in opinion, when she knows all that I know! Just put
your hand in mine, Janet -- that I may have the evidence of touch
as well as sight, to prove you are near me -- and I will in a few
words show you the real state of the case. Can you listen to me?"
"Yes, sir; for hours if you will."
"I ask only minutes. Jane, did you ever hear or know that I was
not the eldest son of my house: that I had once a brother older
"I remember Mrs. Fairfax told me so once."
"And did you ever hear that my father was an avaricious, grasping
"I have understood something to that effect."
"Well, Jane, being so, it was his resolution to keep the property
together; he could not bear the idea of dividing his estate
and leaving me a fair portion: all, he resolved, should go to my
brother, Rowland. Yet as little could he endure that a son of his
should be a poor man. I must be provided for by a wealthy marriage.
He sought me a partner betimes. Mr. Mason, a West India planter and
merchant, was his old acquaintance. He was certain his possessions
were real and vast: he made inquiries. Mr. Mason, he found, had a
son and daughter; and he learned from him that he could and would
give the latter a fortune of thirty thousand pounds: that sufficed.
When I left college, I was sent out to Jamaica, to espouse a bride
already courted for me. My father said nothing about her money;
but he told me Miss Mason was the boast of Spanish Town for her
beauty: and this was no lie. I found her a fine woman, in the
style of Blanche Ingram: tall, dark, and majestic. Her family
wished to secure me because I was of a good race; and so did she.
They showed her to me in parties, splendidly dressed. I seldom
saw her alone, and had very little private conversation with her.
She flattered me, and lavishly displayed for my pleasure her charms
and accomplishments. All the men in her circle seemed to admire her
and envy me. I was dazzled, stimulated: my senses were excited;
and being ignorant, raw, and inexperienced, I thought I loved
her. There is no folly so besotted that the idiotic rivalries of
society, the prurience, the rashness, the blindness of youth, will
not hurry a man to its commission. Her relatives encouraged me;
competitors piqued me; she allured me: a marriage was achieved
almost before I knew where I was. Oh, I have no respect for myself
when I think of that act! -- an agony of inward contempt masters
me. I never loved, I never esteemed, I did not even know her. I
was not sure of the existence of one virtue in her nature: I had
marked neither modesty, nor benevolence, nor candour, nor refinement
in her mind or manners -- and, I married her:- gross, grovelling,
mole-eyed blockhead that I was! With less sin I might have -- But
let me remember to whom I am speaking."
"My bride's mother I had never seen: I understood she was dead.
The honeymoon over, I learned my mistake; she was only mad, and
shut up in a lunatic asylum. There was a younger brother, too --
a complete dumb idiot. The elder one, whom you have seen (and whom
I cannot hate, whilst I abhor all his kindred, because he has some
grains of affection in his feeble mind, shown in the continued
interest he takes in his wretched sister, and also in a dog-like
attachment he once bore me), will probably be in the same state
one day. My father and my brother Rowland knew all this; but they
thought only of the thirty thousand pounds, and joined in the plot
"These were vile discoveries; but except for the treachery
of concealment, I should have made them no subject of reproach to
my wife, even when I found her nature wholly alien to mine, her
tastes obnoxious to me, her cast of mind common, low, narrow, and
singularly incapable of being led to anything higher, expanded
to anything larger -- when I found that I could not pass a single
evening, nor even a single hour of the day with her in comfort;
that kindly conversation could not be sustained between us, because
whatever topic I started, immediately received from her a turn at
once coarse and trite, perverse and imbecile -- when I perceived
that I should never have a quiet or settled household, because
no servant would bear the continued outbreaks of her violent and
unreasonable temper, or the vexations of her absurd, contradictory,
exacting orders -- even then I restrained myself: I eschewed
upbraiding, I curtailed remonstrance; I tried to devour my repentance
and disgust in secret; I repressed the deep antipathy I felt.
"Jane, I will not trouble you with abominable details: some strong
words shall express what I have to say. I lived with that woman
upstairs four years, and before that time she had tried me indeed:
her character ripened and developed with frightful rapidity; her
vices sprang up fast and rank: they were so strong, only cruelty
could check them, and I would not use cruelty. What a pigmy
intellect she had, and what giant propensities! How fearful were
the curses those propensities entailed on me! Bertha Mason, the
true daughter of an infamous mother, dragged me through all the
hideous and degrading agonies which must attend a man bound to a
wife at once intemperate and unchaste.
"My brother in the interval was dead, and at the end of the four
years my father died too. I was rich enough now -- yet poor to
hideous indigence: a nature the most gross, impure, depraved I ever
saw, was associated with mine, and called by the law and by society
a part of me. And I could not rid myself of it by any legal
proceedings: for the doctors now discovered that MY WIFE was mad
-- her excesses had prematurely developed the germs of insanity.
Jane, you don't like my narrative; you look almost sick -- shall
I defer the rest to another day?"
"No, sir, finish it now; I pity you -- I do earnestly pity you."
"Pity, Jane, from some people is a noxious and insulting sort of
tribute, which one is justified in hurling back in the teeth of
those who offer it; but that is the sort of pity native to callous,
selfish hearts; it is a hybrid, egotistical pain at hearing of
woes, crossed with ignorant contempt for those who have endured
them. But that is not your pity, Jane; it is not the feeling of
which your whole face is full at this moment -- with which your eyes
are now almost overflowing -- with which your heart is heaving --
with which your hand is trembling in mine. Your pity, my darling,
is the suffering mother of love: its anguish is the very natal
pang of the divine passion. I accept it, Jane; let the daughter
have free advent -- my arms wait to receive her."
"Now, sir, proceed; what did you do when you found she was mad?"
"Jane, I approached the verge of despair; a remnant of self-respect
was all that intervened between me and the gulf. In the eyes
of the world, I was doubtless covered with grimy dishonour; but I
resolved to be clean in my own sight -- and to the last I repudiated
the contamination of her crimes, and wrenched myself from connection
with her mental defects. Still, society associated my name and
person with hers; I yet saw her and heard her daily: something
of her breath (faugh!) mixed with the air I breathed; and besides,
I remembered I had once been her husband -- that recollection was
then, and is now, inexpressibly odious to me; moreover, I knew that
while she lived I could never be the husband of another and better
wife; and, though five years my senior (her family and her father
had lied to me even in the particular of her age), she was likely
to live as long as I, being as robust in frame as she was infirm
in mind. Thus, at the age of twenty-six, I was hopeless.
"One night I had been awakened by her yells -- (since the medical
men had pronounced her mad, she had, of course, been shut up)
-- it was a fiery West Indian night; one of the description that
frequently precede the hurricanes of those climates. Being unable
to sleep in bed, I got up and opened the window. The air was like
sulphur-steams -- I could find no refreshment anywhere. Mosquitoes
came buzzing in and hummed sullenly round the room; the sea, which
I could hear from thence, rumbled dull like an earthquake -- black
clouds were casting up over it; the moon was setting in the waves,
broad and red, like a hot cannon-ball -- she threw her last bloody
glance over a world quivering with the ferment of tempest. I was
physically influenced by the atmosphere and scene, and my ears were
filled with the curses the maniac still shrieked out; wherein she
momentarily mingled my name with such a tone of demon-hate, with
such language! -- no professed harlot ever had a fouler vocabulary
than she: though two rooms off, I heard every word -- the thin
partitions of the West India house opposing but slight obstruction
to her wolfish cries.
"'This life,' said I at last, 'is hell: this is the air -- those
are the sounds of the bottomless pit! I have a right to deliver
myself from it if I can. The sufferings of this mortal state will
leave me with the heavy flesh that now cumbers my soul. Of the
fanatic's burning eternity I have no fear: there is not a future
state worse than this present one -- let me break away, and go home
"I said this whilst I knelt down at, and unlocked a trunk which
contained a brace of loaded pistols: I mean to shoot myself. I
only entertained the intention for a moment; for, not being insane,
the crisis of exquisite and unalloyed despair, which had originated
the wish and design of self-destruction, was past in a second.
"A wind fresh from Europe blew over the ocean and rushed through
the open casement: the storm broke, streamed, thundered, blazed,
and the air grew pure. I then framed and fixed a resolution.
While I walked under the dripping orange-trees of my wet garden,
and amongst its drenched pomegranates and pine-apples, and while
the refulgent dawn of the tropics kindled round me -- I reasoned
thus, Jane -- and now listen; for it was true Wisdom that consoled
me in that hour, and showed me the right path to follow.
"The sweet wind from Europe was still whispering in the refreshed
leaves, and the Atlantic was thundering in glorious liberty; my
heart, dried up and scorched for a long time, swelled to the tone,
and filled with living blood -- my being longed for renewal -- my
soul thirsted for a pure draught. I saw hope revive -- and felt
regeneration possible. From a flowery arch at the bottom of my
garden I gazed over the sea -- bluer than the sky: the old world
was beyond; clear prospects opened thus:-
"'Go,' said Hope, 'and live again in Europe: there it is not known
what a sullied name you bear, nor what a filthy burden is bound
to you. You may take the maniac with you to England; confine her
with due attendance and precautions at Thornfield: then travel
yourself to what clime you will, and form what new tie you like.
That woman, who has so abused your long-suffering, so sullied your
name, so outraged your honour, so blighted your youth, is not your
wife, nor are you her husband. See that she is cared for as her
condition demands, and you have done all that God and humanity
require of you. Let her identity, her connection with yourself,
be buried in oblivion: you are bound to impart them to no living
being. Place her in safety and comfort: shelter her degradation
with secrecy, and leave her.'
"I acted precisely on this suggestion. My father and brother had
not made my marriage known to their acquaintance; because, in the
very first letter I wrote to apprise them of the union -- having
already begun to experience extreme disgust of its consequences,
and, from the family character and constitution, seeing a hideous
future opening to me -- I added an urgent charge to keep it
secret: and very soon the infamous conduct of the wife my father
had selected for me was such as to make him blush to own her as his
daughter-in-law. Far from desiring to publish the connection, he
became as anxious to conceal it as myself.
"To England, then, I conveyed her; a fearful voyage I had with
such a monster in the vessel. Glad was I when I at last got her
to Thornfield, and saw her safely lodged in that third-storey room,
of whose secret inner cabinet she has now for ten years made a wild
beast's den -- a goblin's cell. I had some trouble in finding an
attendant for her, as it was necessary to select one on whose fidelity
dependence could be placed; for her ravings would inevitably betray
my secret: besides, she had lucid intervals of days -- sometimes
weeks -- which she filled up with abuse of me. At last I hired
Grace Poole from the Grimbsy Retreat. She and the surgeon, Carter
(who dressed Mason's wounds that night he was stabbed and worried),
are the only two I have ever admitted to my confidence. Mrs. Fairfax
may indeed have suspected something, but she could have gained no
precise knowledge as to facts. Grace has, on the whole, proved a
good keeper; though, owing partly to a fault of her own, of which
it appears nothing can cure her, and which is incident to her
harassing profession, her vigilance has been more than once lulled
and baffled. The lunatic is both cunning and malignant; she has
never failed to take advantage of her guardian's temporary lapses;
once to secrete the knife with which she stabbed her brother, and
twice to possess herself of the key of her cell, and issue therefrom
in the night-time. On the first of these occasions, she perpetrated
the attempt to burn me in my bed; on the second, she paid that
ghastly visit to you. I thank Providence, who watched over you,
that she then spent her fury on your wedding apparel, which perhaps
brought back vague reminiscences of her own bridal days: but on what
might have happened, I cannot endure to reflect. When I think of
the thing which flew at my throat this morning, hanging its black
and scarlet visage over the nest of my dove, my blood curdles."
"And what, sir," I asked, while he paused, "did you do when you
had settled her here? Where did you go?"
"What did I do, Jane? I transformed myself into a will-o'-the-wisp.
Where did I go? I pursued wanderings as wild as those of the
March-spirit. I sought the Continent, and went devious through
all its lands. My fixed desire was to seek and find a good and
intelligent woman, whom I could love: a contrast to the
fury I left at Thornfield -- "
"But you could not marry, sir."
"I had determined and was convinced that I could and ought. It
was not my original intention to deceive, as I have deceived you.
I meant to tell my tale plainly, and make my proposals openly: and
it appeared to me so absolutely rational that I should be considered
free to love and be loved, I never doubted some woman might be found
willing and able to understand my case and accept me, in spite of
the curse with which I was burdened."
"When you are inquisitive, Jane, you always make me smile. You
open your eyes like an eager bird, and make every now and then a
restless movement, as if answers in speech did not flow fast enough
for you, and you wanted to read the tablet of one's heart. But
before I go on, tell me what you mean by your 'Well, sir?' It is
a small phrase very frequent with you; and which many a time has
drawn me on and on through interminable talk: I don't very well
"I mean, -- What next? How did you proceed? What came of such an
"Precisely! and what do you wish to know now?"
"Whether you found any one you liked: whether you asked her to
marry you; and what she said."
"I can tell you whether I found any one I liked, and whether I
asked her to marry me: but what she said is yet to be recorded in
the book of Fate. For ten long years I roved about, living first
in one capital, then another: sometimes in St. Petersburg; oftener
in Paris; occasionally in Rome, Naples, and Florence. Provided
with plenty of money and the passport of an old name, I could choose
my own society: no circles were closed against me. I sought my
ideal of a woman amongst English ladies, French countesses, Italian
signoras, and German grafinnen. I could not find her. Sometimes,
for a fleeting moment, I thought I caught a glance, heard a tone,
beheld a form, which announced the realisation of my dream: but
I was presently undeserved. You are not to suppose that I desired
perfection, either of mind or person. I longed only for what
suited me -- for the antipodes of the Creole: and I longed vainly.
Amongst them all I found not one whom, had I been ever so free,
I -- warned as I was of the risks, the horrors, the loathings of
incongruous unions -- would have asked to marry me. Disappointment
made me reckless. I tried dissipation -- never debauchery: that
I hated, and hate. That was my Indian Messalina's attribute:
rooted disgust at it and her restrained me much, even in pleasure.
Any enjoyment that bordered on riot seemed to approach me to her
and her vices, and I eschewed it.
"Yet I could not live alone; so I tried the companionship
of mistresses. The first I chose was Celine Varens -- another of
those steps which make a man spurn himself when he recalls them. You
already know what she was, and how my liaison with her terminated.
She had two successors: an Italian, Giacinta, and a German, Clara;
both considered singularly handsome. What was their beauty to me
in a few weeks? Giacinta was unprincipled and violent: I tired
of her in three months. Clara was honest and quiet; but heavy,
mindless, and unimpressible: not one whit to my taste. I was
glad to give her a sufficient sum to set her up in a good line of
business, and so get decently rid of her. But, Jane, I see by your
face you are not forming a very favourable opinion of me just now.
You think me an unfeeling, loose-principled rake: don't you?"
"I don't like you so well as I have done sometimes, indeed, sir.
Did it not seem to you in the least wrong to live in that way,
first with one mistress and then another? You talk of it as a mere
matter of course."
"It was with me; and I did not like it. It was a grovelling
fashion of existence: I should never like to return to it. Hiring
a mistress is the next worse thing to buying a slave: both are
often by nature, and always by position, inferior: and to live
familiarly with inferiors is degrading. I now hate the recollection
of the time I passed with Celine, Giacinta, and Clara."
I felt the truth of these words; and I drew from them the certain
inference, that if I were so far to forget myself and all the teaching
that had ever been instilled into me, as -- under any pretext --
with any justification -- through any temptation -- to become the
successor of these poor girls, he would one day regard me with the
same feeling which now in his mind desecrated their memory. I did
not give utterance to this conviction: it was enough to feel it.
I impressed it on my heart, that it might remain there to serve me
as aid in the time of trial.
"Now, Jane, why don't you say 'Well, sir?' I have not done. You
are looking grave. You disapprove of me still, I see. But let
me come to the point. Last January, rid of all mistresses -- in a
harsh, bitter frame of mind, the result of a useless, roving, lonely
life -- corroded with disappointment, sourly disposed against all
men, and especially against all womankind (for I began to regard
the notion of an intellectual, faithful, loving woman as a mere
dream), recalled by business, I came back to England.
"On a frosty winter afternoon, I rode in sight of Thornfield Hall.
Abhorred spot! I expected no peace -- no pleasure there. On a
stile in Hay Lane I saw a quiet little figure sitting by itself.
I passed it as negligently as I did the pollard willow opposite
to it: I had no presentiment of what it would be to me; no inward
warning that the arbitress of my life -- my genius for good or evil
-- waited there in humble guise. I did not know it, even when, on
the occasion of Mesrour's accident, it came up and gravely offered
me help. Childish and slender creature! It seemed as if a linnet
had hopped to my foot and proposed to bear me on its tiny wing. I
was surly; but the thing would not go: it stood by me with strange
perseverance, and looked and spoke with a sort of authority. I
must be aided, and by that hand: and aided I was.
"When once I had pressed the frail shoulder, something new -- a
fresh sap and sense -- stole into my frame. It was well I had learnt
that this elf must return to me -- that it belonged to my house
down below -- or I could not have felt it pass away from under my
hand, and seen it vanish behind the dim hedge, without singular
regret. I heard you come home that night, Jane, though probably
you were not aware that I thought of you or watched for you. The
next day I observed you -- myself unseen -- for half-an-hour,
while you played with Adele in the gallery. It was a snowy day,
I recollect, and you could not go out of doors. I was in my room;
the door was ajar: I could both listen and watch. Adele claimed
your outward attention for a while; yet I fancied your thoughts
were elsewhere: but you were very patient with her, my little
Jane; you talked to her and amused her a long time. When at last
she left you, you lapsed at once into deep reverie: you betook
yourself slowly to pace the gallery. Now and then, in passing a
casement, you glanced out at the thick-falling snow; you listened
to the sobbing wind, and again you paced gently on and dreamed.
I think those day visions were not dark: there was a pleasurable
illumination in your eye occasionally, a soft excitement in your
aspect, which told of no bitter, bilious, hypochondriac brooding:
your look revealed rather the sweet musings of youth when its spirit
follows on willing wings the flight of Hope up and on to an ideal
heaven. The voice of Mrs. Fairfax, speaking to a servant in the
hall, wakened you: and how curiously you smiled to and at yourself,
Janet! There was much sense in your smile: it was very shrewd,
and seemed to make light of your own abstraction. It seemed to say
-- 'My fine visions are all very well, but I must not forget they
are absolutely unreal. I have a rosy sky and a green flowery Eden
in my brain; but without, I am perfectly aware, lies at my feet
a rough tract to travel, and around me gather black tempests to
encounter.' You ran downstairs and demanded of Mrs. Fairfax some
occupation: the weekly house accounts to make up, or something of
that sort, I think it was. I was vexed with you for getting out
of my sight.
"Impatiently I waited for evening, when I might summon you
to my presence. An unusual -- to me -- a perfectly new character
I suspected was yours: I desired to search it deeper and know it
better. You entered the room with a look and air at once shy and
independent: you were quaintly dressed -- much as you are now.
I made you talk: ere long I found you full of strange contrasts.
Your garb and manner were restricted by rule; your air was often
diffident, and altogether that of one refined by nature, but
absolutely unused to society, and a good deal afraid of making
herself disadvantageously conspicuous by some solecism or blunder;
yet when addressed, you lifted a keen, a daring, and a glowing
eye to your interlocutor's face: there was penetration and power
in each glance you gave; when plied by close questions, you found
ready and round answers. Very soon you seemed to get used to me:
I believe you felt the existence of sympathy between you and your
grim and cross master, Jane; for it was astonishing to see how
quickly a certain pleasant ease tranquillised your manner: snarl
as I would, you showed no surprise, fear, annoyance, or displeasure
at my moroseness; you watched me, and now and then smiled at me
with a simple yet sagacious grace I cannot describe. I was at once
content and stimulated with what I saw: I liked what I had seen,
and wished to see more. Yet, for a long time, I treated you
distantly, and sought your company rarely. I was an intellectual
epicure, and wished to prolong the gratification of making this
novel and piquant acquaintance: besides, I was for a while troubled
with a haunting fear that if I handled the flower freely its bloom
would fade -- the sweet charm of freshness would leave it. I did
not then know that it was no transitory blossom, but rather the
radiant resemblance of one, cut in an indestructible gem. Moreover,
I wished to see whether you would seek me if I shunned you -- but
you did not; you kept in the schoolroom as still as your own desk
and easel; if by chance I met you, you passed me as soon, and with
as little token of recognition, as was consistent with respect.
Your habitual expression in those days, Jane, was a thoughtful
look; not despondent, for you were not sickly; but not buoyant,
for you had little hope, and no actual pleasure. I wondered what
you thought of me, or if you ever thought of me, and resolved to
find this out.
"I resumed my notice of you. There was something glad in your
glance, and genial in your manner, when you conversed: I saw you
had a social heart; it was the silent schoolroom -- it was the
tedium of your life -- that made you mournful. I permitted myself
the delight of being kind to you; kindness stirred emotion soon:
your face became soft in expression, your tones gentle; I liked my
name pronounced by your lips in a grateful happy accent. I used to
enjoy a chance meeting with you, Jane, at this time: there was a
curious hesitation in your manner: you glanced at me with a slight
trouble -- a hovering doubt: you did not know what my caprice might
be -- whether I was going to play the master and be stern, or the
friend and be benignant. I was now too fond of you often to simulate
the first whim; and, when I stretched my hand out cordially, such
bloom and light and bliss rose to your young, wistful features,
I had much ado often to avoid straining you then and there to my
"Don't talk any more of those days, sir," I interrupted, furtively
dashing away some tears from my eyes; his language was torture
to me; for I knew what I must do -- and do soon -- and all these
reminiscences, and these revelations of his feelings only made my
work more difficult.
"No, Jane," he returned: "what necessity is there to dwell on
the Past, when the Present is so much surer -- the Future so much
I shuddered to hear the infatuated assertion.
"You see now how the case stands -- do you not?" he continued.
"After a youth and manhood passed half in unutterable misery and
half in dreary solitude, I have for the first time found what I can
truly love -- I have found you. You are my sympathy -- my better
self -- my good angel. I am bound to you with a strong attachment.
I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion
is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre
and spring of life, wraps my existence about you, and, kindling in
pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.
"It was because I felt and knew this, that I resolved to marry
you. To tell me that I had already a wife is empty mockery: you
know now that I had but a hideous demon. I was wrong to attempt
to deceive you; but I feared a stubbornness that exists in your
character. I feared early instilled prejudice: I wanted to have
you safe before hazarding confidences. This was cowardly: I should
have appealed to your nobleness and magnanimity at first, as I do
now -- opened to you plainly my life of agony -- described to you
my hunger and thirst after a higher and worthier existence -- shown
to you, not my RESOLUTION (that word is weak), but my resistless
BENT to love faithfully and well, where I am faithfully and well
loved in return. Then I should have asked you to accept my pledge
of fidelity and to give me yours. Jane -- give it me now."
"Why are you silent, Jane?"
I was experiencing an ordeal: a hand of fiery iron grasped my
vitals. Terrible moment: full of struggle, blackness, burning!
Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better
than I was loved; and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped:
and I must renounce love and idol. One drear word comprised my
intolerable duty -- "Depart!"
"Jane, you understand what I want of you? Just this promise -- 'I
will be yours, Mr. Rochester.'"
"Mr. Rochester, I will NOT be yours."
Another long silence.
"Jane!" recommenced he, with a gentleness that broke me down with
grief, and turned me stone-cold with ominous terror -- for this
still voice was the pant of a lion rising -- "Jane, do you mean to
go one way in the world, and to let me go another?"
"Jane" (bending towards and embracing me), "do you mean it now?"
"And now?" softly kissing my forehead and cheek.
"I do," extricating myself from restraint rapidly and completely.
"Oh, Jane, this is bitter! This -- this is wicked. It would not
be wicked to love me."
"It would to obey you."
A wild look raised his brows -- crossed his features: he rose;
but he forebore yet. I laid my hand on the back of a chair for
support: I shook, I feared -- but I resolved.
"One instant, Jane. Give one glance to my horrible life when you
are gone. All happiness will be torn away with you. What then is
left? For a wife I have but the maniac upstairs: as well might
you refer me to some corpse in yonder churchyard. What shall I
do, Jane? Where turn for a companion and for some hope?"
"Do as I do: trust in God and yourself. Believe in heaven. Hope
to meet again there."
"Then you will not yield?"
"Then you condemn me to live wretched and to die accursed?" His
"I advise you to live sinless, and I wish you to die tranquil."
"Then you snatch love and innocence from me? You fling me back on
lust for a passion -- vice for an occupation?"
"Mr. Rochester, I no more assign this fate to you than I grasp at
it for myself. We were born to strive and endure -- you as well
as I: do so. You will forget me before I forget you."
"You make me a liar by such language: you sully my honour. I
declared I could not change: you tell me to my face I shall change
soon. And what a distortion in your judgment, what a perversity
in your ideas, is proved by your conduct! Is it better to drive
a fellow-creature to despair than to transgress a mere human law,
no man being injured by the breach? for you have neither relatives
nor acquaintances whom you need fear to offend by living with me?"
This was true: and while he spoke my very conscience and reason
turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting
him. They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured
wildly. "Oh, comply!" it said. "Think of his misery; think of his
danger -- look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong
nature; consider the recklessness following on despair -- soothe
him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his.
Who in the world cares for YOU? or who will be injured by what you
Still indomitable was the reply -- "I care for myself. The more
solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more
I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned
by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was
sane, and not mad -- as I am now. Laws and principles are not for
the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments
as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour;
stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual
convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They
have a worth -- so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe
it now, it is because I am insane -- quite insane: with my veins
running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its
throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all
I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."
I did. Mr. Rochester, reading my countenance, saw I had done so.
His fury was wrought to the highest: he must yield to it for a
moment, whatever followed; he crossed the floor and seized my arm
and grasped my waist. He seemed to devour me with his flaming
glance: physically, I felt, at the moment, powerless as stubble
exposed to the draught and glow of a furnace: mentally, I still
possessed my soul, and with it the certainty of ultimate safety.
The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter -- often an unconscious,
but still a truthful interpreter -- in the eye. My eye rose to
his; and while I looked in his fierce face I gave an involuntary
sigh; his gripe was painful, and my over-taxed strength almost
"Never," said he, as he ground his teeth, "never was anything at once
so frail and so indomitable. A mere reed she feels in my hand!"
(And he shook me with the force of his hold.) "I could bend her
with my finger and thumb: and what good would it do if I bent,
if I uptore, if I crushed her? Consider that eye: consider the
resolute, wild, free thing looking out of it, defying me, with
more than courage -- with a stern triumph. Whatever I do with its
cage, I cannot get at it -- the savage, beautiful creature! If
I tear, if I rend the slight prison, my outrage will only let the
captive loose. Conqueror I might be of the house; but the inmate
would escape to heaven before I could call myself possessor of its
clay dwelling-place. And it is you, spirit -- with will and energy,
and virtue and purity -- that I want: not alone your brittle frame.
Of yourself you could come with soft flight and nestle against my
heart, if you would: seized against your will, you will elude the
grasp like an essence -- you will vanish ere I inhale your fragrance.
Oh! come, Jane, come!"
As he said this, he released me from his clutch, and only looked
at me. The look was far worse to resist than the frantic strain:
only an idiot, however, would have succumbed now. I had dared and
baffled his fury; I must elude his sorrow: I retired to the door.
"You are going, Jane?"
"I am going, sir."
"You are leaving me?"
"You will not come? You will not be my comforter, my rescuer? My
deep love, my wild woe, my frantic prayer, are all nothing to you?"
What unutterable pathos was in his voice! How hard it was to
reiterate firmly, "I am going."
"Withdraw, then, -- I consent; but remember, you leave me here in
anguish. Go up to your own room; think over all I have said, and,
Jane, cast a glance on my sufferings -- think of me."
He turned away; he threw himself on his face on the sofa. "Oh,
Jane! my hope -- my love -- my life!" broke in anguish from his
lips. Then came a deep, strong sob.
I had already gained the door; but, reader, I walked back -- walked
back as determinedly as I had retreated. I knelt down by him;
I turned his face from the cushion to me; I kissed his cheek; I
smoothed his hair with my hand.
"God bless you, my dear master!" I said. "God keep you from harm
and wrong -- direct you, solace you -- reward you well for your
past kindness to me."
"Little Jane's love would have been my best reward," he answered;
"without it, my heart is broken. But Jane will give me her love:
yes -- nobly, generously."
Up the blood rushed to his face; forth flashed the fire from
his eyes; erect he sprang; he held his arms out; but I evaded the
embrace, and at once quitted the room.
"Farewell!" was the cry of my heart as I left him. Despair added,
"Farewell for ever!"
That night I never thought to sleep; but a slumber fell on me as
soon as I lay down in bed. I was transported in thought to the
scenes of childhood: I dreamt I lay in the red-room at Gateshead;
that the night was dark, and my mind impressed with strange fears.
The light that long ago had struck me into syncope, recalled in
this vision, seemed glidingly to mount the wall, and tremblingly to
pause in the centre of the obscured ceiling. I lifted up my head
to look: the roof resolved to clouds, high and dim; the gleam
was such as the moon imparts to vapours she is about to sever. I
watched her come -- watched with the strangest anticipation; as
though some word of doom were to be written on her disk. She broke
forth as never moon yet burst from cloud: a hand first penetrated
the sable folds and waved them away; then, not a moon, but a white
human form shone in the azure, inclining a glorious brow earthward.
It gazed and gazed on me. It spoke to my spirit: immeasurably
distant was the tone, yet so near, it whispered in my heart -
"My daughter, flee temptation."
"Mother, I will."
So I answered after I had waked from the trance-like dream. It was
yet night, but July nights are short: soon after midnight, dawn
comes. "It cannot be too early to commence the task I have to
fulfil," thought I. I rose: I was dressed; for I had taken off
nothing but my shoes. I knew where to find in my drawers some linen,
a locket, a ring. In seeking these articles, I encountered the
beads of a pearl necklace Mr. Rochester had forced me to accept a
few days ago. I left that; it was not mine: it was the visionary
bride's who had melted in air. The other articles I made up in a
parcel; my purse, containing twenty shillings (it was all I had),
I put in my pocket: I tied on my straw bonnet, pinned my shawl,
took the parcel and my slippers, which I would not put on yet, and
stole from my room.
"Farewell, kind Mrs. Fairfax!" I whispered, as I glided past her
door. "Farewell, my darling Adele!" I said, as I glanced towards
the nursery. No thought could be admitted of entering to embrace
her. I had to deceive a fine ear: for aught I knew it might now
I would have got past Mr. Rochester's chamber without a pause; but
my heart momentarily stopping its beat at that threshold, my foot
was forced to stop also. No sleep was there: the inmate was
walking restlessly from wall to wall; and again and again he sighed
while I listened. There was a heaven -- a temporary heaven --
in this room for me, if I chose: I had but to go in and to say -
"Mr. Rochester, I will love you and live with you through life till
death," and a fount of rapture would spring to my lips. I thought
That kind master, who could not sleep now, was waiting with
impatience for day. He would send for me in the morning; I should
be gone. He would have me sought for: vainly. He would feel
himself forsaken; his love rejected: he would suffer; perhaps
grow desperate. I thought of this too. My hand moved towards the
lock: I caught it back, and glided on.
Drearily I wound my way downstairs: I knew what I had to do, and
I did it mechanically. I sought the key of the side-door in the
kitchen; I sought, too, a phial of oil and a feather; I oiled the
key and the lock. I got some water, I got some bread: for perhaps
I should have to walk far; and my strength, sorely shaken of late,
must not break down. All this I did without one sound. I opened
the door, passed out, shut it softly. Dim dawn glimmered in the
yard. The great gates were closed and locked; but a wicket in
one of them was only latched. Through that I departed: it, too,
I shut; and now I was out of Thornfield.
A mile off, beyond the fields, lay a road which stretched in the
contrary direction to Millcote; a road I had never travelled, but
often noticed, and wondered where it led: thither I bent my steps.
No reflection was to be allowed now: not one glance was to be
cast back; not even one forward. Not one thought was to be given
either to the past or the future. The first was a page so heavenly
sweet -- so deadly sad -- that to read one line of it would dissolve
my courage and break down my energy. The last was an awful blank:
something like the world when the deluge was gone by.
I skirted fields, and hedges, and lanes till after sunrise. I
believe it was a lovely summer morning: I know my shoes, which I
had put on when I left the house, were soon wet with dew. But I
looked neither to rising sun, nor smiling sky, nor wakening nature.
He who is taken out to pass through a fair scene to the scaffold,
thinks not of the flowers that smile on his road, but of the block
and axe-edge; of the disseverment of bone and vein; of the grave
gaping at the end: and I thought of drear flight and homeless
wandering -- and oh! with agony I thought of what I left. I could
not help it. I thought of him now -- in his room -- watching the
sunrise; hoping I should soon come to say I would stay with him
and be his. I longed to be his; I panted to return: it was not
too late; I could yet spare him the bitter pang of bereavement. As
yet my flight, I was sure, was undiscovered. I could go back and
be his comforter -- his pride; his redeemer from misery, perhaps
from ruin. Oh, that fear of his self-abandonment -- far worse than
my abandonment -- how it goaded me! It was a barbed arrow-head
in my breast; it tore me when I tried to extract it; it sickened
me when remembrance thrust it farther in. Birds began singing in
brake and copse: birds were faithful to their mates; birds were
emblems of love. What was I? In the midst of my pain of heart and
frantic effort of principle, I abhorred myself. I had no solace
from self- approbation: none even from self-respect. I had injured
-- wounded -- left my master. I was hateful in my own eyes. Still
I could not turn, nor retrace one step. God must have led me on.
As to my own will or conscience, impassioned grief had trampled one
and stifled the other. I was weeping wildly as I walked along my
solitary way: fast, fast I went like one delirious. A weakness,
beginning inwardly, extending to the limbs, seized me, and I fell:
I lay on the ground some minutes, pressing my face to the wet turf.
I had some fear -- or hope -- that here I should die: but I was
soon up; crawling forwards on my hands and knees, and then again
raised to my feet -- as eager and as determined as ever to reach
When I got there, I was forced to sit to rest me under the hedge;
and while I sat, I heard wheels, and saw a coach come on. I stood
up and lifted my hand; it stopped. I asked where it was going:
the driver named a place a long way off, and where I was sure Mr.
Rochester had no connections. I asked for what sum he would take
me there; he said thirty shillings; I answered I had but twenty;
well, he would try to make it do. He further gave me leave to get
into the inside, as the vehicle was empty: I entered, was shut
in, and it rolled on its way.
Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes
never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from
mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and
so agonised as in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like
me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.
Two days are passed. It is a summer evening; the coachman has set
me down at a place called Whitcross; he could take me no farther
for the sum I had given, and I was not possessed of another shilling
in the world. The coach is a mile off by this time; I am alone.
At this moment I discover that I forgot to take my parcel out of
the pocket of the coach, where I had placed it for safety; there
it remains, there it must remain; and now, I am absolutely destitute.
Whitcross is no town, nor even a hamlet; it is but a stone pillar
set up where four roads meet: whitewashed, I suppose, to be more
obvious at a distance and in darkness. Four arms spring from its
summit: the nearest town to which these point is, according to the
inscription, distant ten miles; the farthest, above twenty. From
the well-known names of these towns I learn in what county I have
lighted; a north-midland shire, dusk with moorland, ridged with
mountain: this I see. There are great moors behind and on each
hand of me; there are waves of mountains far beyond that deep
valley at my feet. The population here must be thin, and I see
no passengers on these roads: they stretch out east, west, north,
and south -- white, broad, lonely; they are all cut in the moor,
and the heather grows deep and wild to their very verge. Yet a
chance traveller might pass by; and I wish no eye to see me now:
strangers would wonder what I am doing, lingering here at the
sign-post, evidently objectless and lost. I might be questioned:
I could give no answer but what would sound incredible and excite
suspicion. Not a tie holds me to human society at this moment --
not a charm or hope calls me where my fellow-creatures are -- none
that saw me would have a kind thought or a good wish for me. I
have no relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek
her breast and ask repose.
I struck straight into the heath; I held on to a hollow I saw
deeply furrowing the brown moorside; I waded knee-deep in its dark
growth; I turned with its turnings, and finding a moss-blackened
granite crag in a hidden angle, I sat down under it. High banks of
moor were about me; the crag protected my head: the sky was over
Some time passed before I felt tranquil even here: I had a vague
dread that wild cattle might be near, or that some sportsman or
poacher might discover me. If a gust of wind swept the waste, I
looked up, fearing it was the rush of a bull; if a plover whistled,
I imagined it a man. Finding my apprehensions unfounded, however,
and calmed by the deep silence that reigned as evening declined
at nightfall, I took confidence. As yet I had not thought; I had
only listened, watched, dreaded; now I regained the faculty of
What was I to do? Where to go? Oh, intolerable questions, when
I could do nothing and go nowhere! -- when a long way must yet be
measured by my weary, trembling limbs before I could reach human
habitation -- when cold charity must be entreated before I could get
a lodging: reluctant sympathy importuned, almost certain repulse
incurred, before my tale could be listened to, or one of my wants
I touched the heath, it was dry, and yet warm with the beat of the
summer day. I looked at the sky; it was pure: a kindly star twinkled
just above the chasm ridge. The dew fell, but with propitious
softness; no breeze whispered. Nature seemed to me benign and
good; I thought she loved me, outcast as I was; and I, who from
man could anticipate only mistrust, rejection, insult, clung to her
with filial fondness. To-night, at least, I would be her guest,
as I was her child: my mother would lodge me without money and
without price. I had one morsel of bread yet: the remnant of a
roll I had bought in a town we passed through at noon with a stray
penny -- my last coin. I saw ripe bilberries gleaming here and
there, like jet beads in the heath: I gathered a handful and ate
them with the bread. My hunger, sharp before, was, if not satisfied,
appeased by this hermit's meal. I said my evening prayers at its
conclusion, and then chose my couch.
Beside the crag the heath was very deep: when I lay down my feet
were buried in it; rising high on each side, it left only a narrow
space for the night-air to invade. I folded my shawl double, and
spread it over me for a coverlet; a low, mossy swell was my pillow.
Thus lodged, I was not, at least -- at the commencement of the
My rest might have been blissful enough, only a sad heart broke it.
It plained of its gaping wounds, its inward bleeding, its riven
chords. It trembled for Mr. Rochester and his doom; it bemoaned
him with bitter pity; it demanded him with ceaseless longing; and,
impotent as a bird with both wings broken, it still quivered its
shattered pinions in vain attempts to seek him.
Worn out with this torture of thought, I rose to my knees. Night
was come, and her planets were risen: a safe, still night: too
serene for the companionship of fear. We know that God is everywhere;
but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the
grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky,
where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest
His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence. I had risen to
my knees to pray for Mr. Rochester. Looking up, I, with tear-dimmed
eyes, saw the mighty Milky-way. Remembering what it was -- what
countless systems there swept space like a soft trace of light --
I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency
to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should
perish, nor one of the souls it treasured. I turned my prayer to
thanksgiving: the Source of Life was also the Saviour of spirits.
Mr. Rochester was safe; he was God's, and by God would he be
guarded. I again nestled to the breast of the hill; and ere long
in sleep forgot sorrow.
But next day, Want came to me pale and bare. Long after the little
birds had left their nests; long after bees had come in the sweet
prime of day to gather the heath honey before the dew was dried --
when the long morning shadows were curtailed, and the sun filled
earth and sky -- I got up, and I looked round me.
What a still, hot, perfect day! What a golden desert this spreading
moor! Everywhere sunshine. I wished I could live in it and on
it. I saw a lizard run over the crag; I saw a bee busy among the
sweet bilberries. I would fain at the moment have become bee or
lizard, that I might have found fitting nutriment, permanent shelter
here. But I was a human being, and had a human being's wants: I
must not linger where there was nothing to supply them. I rose; I
looked back at the bed I had left. Hopeless of the future, I wished
but this -- that my Maker had that night thought good to require
my soul of me while I slept; and that this weary frame, absolved
by death from further conflict with fate, had now but to decay
quietly, and mingle in peace with the soil of this wilderness. Life,
however, was yet in my possession, with all its requirements, and
pains, and responsibilities. The burden must be carried; the want
provided for; the suffering endured; the responsibility fulfilled.
I set out.
Whitcross regained, I followed a road which led from the sun, now
fervent and high. By no other circumstance had I will to decide
my choice. I walked a long time, and when I thought I had nearly
done enough, and might conscientiously yield to the fatigue that
almost overpowered me -- might relax this forced action, and, sitting
down on a stone I saw near, submit resistlessly to the apathy that
clogged heart and limb -- I heard a bell chime -- a church bell.
I turned in the direction of the sound, and there, amongst the
romantic hills, whose changes and aspect I had ceased to note an
hour ago, I saw a hamlet and a spire. All the valley at my right
hand was full of pasture-fields, and cornfields, and wood; and a
glittering stream ran zig-zag through the varied shades of green,
the mellowing grain, the sombre woodland, the clear and sunny lea.
Recalled by the rumbling of wheels to the road before me, I saw
a heavily-laden waggon labouring up the hill, and not far beyond
were two cows and their drover. Human life and human labour were
near. I must struggle on: strive to live and bend to toil like
About two o'clock p.m. I entered the village. At the bottom of
its one street there was a little shop with some cakes of bread
in the window. I coveted a cake of bread. With that refreshment
I could perhaps regain a degree of energy: without it, it would
be difficult to proceed. The wish to have some strength and some
vigour returned to me as soon as I was amongst my fellow-beings.
I felt it would be degrading to faint with hunger on the causeway
of a hamlet. Had I nothing about me I could offer in exchange for
one of these rolls? I considered. I had a small silk handkerchief
tied round my throat; I had my gloves. I could hardly tell how
men and women in extremities of destitution proceeded. I did not
know whether either of these articles would be accepted: probably
they would not; but I must try.
I entered the shop: a woman was there. Seeing a respectably-dressed
person, a lady as she supposed, she came forward with civility.
How could she serve me? I was seized with shame: my tongue would
not utter the request I had prepared. I dared not offer her the
half-worn gloves, the creased handkerchief: besides, I felt it
would be absurd. I only begged permission to sit down a moment,
as I was tired. Disappointed in the expectation of a customer, she
coolly acceded to my request. She pointed to a seat; I sank into
it. I felt sorely urged to weep; but conscious how unseasonable
such a manifestation would be, I restrained it. Soon I asked her
"if there were any dressmaker or plain-workwoman in the village?"
"Yes; two or three. Quite as many as there was employment for."
I reflected. I was driven to the point now. I was brought face
to face with Necessity. I stood in the position of one without a
resource, without a friend, without a coin. I must do something.
What? I must apply somewhere. Where?
"Did she know of any place in the neighbourhood where a servant
"Nay; she couldn't say."
"What was the chief trade in this place? What did most of the
"Some were farm labourers; a good deal worked at Mr. Oliver's
needle-factory, and at the foundry."
"Did Mr. Oliver employ women?"
"Nay; it was men's work."
"And what do the women do?"
"I knawn't," was the answer. "Some does one thing, and some another.
Poor folk mun get on as they can."
She seemed to be tired of my questions: and, indeed, what claim
had I to importune her? A neighbour or two came in; my chair was
evidently wanted. I took leave.
I passed up the street, looking as I went at all the houses to the
right hand and to the left; but I could discover no pretext, nor
see an inducement to enter any. I rambled round the hamlet, going
sometimes to a little distance and returning again, for an hour or
more. Much exhausted, and suffering greatly now for want of food,
I turned aside into a lane and sat down under the hedge. Ere many
minutes had elapsed, I was again on my feet, however, and again
searching something -- a resource, or at least an informant. A
pretty little house stood at the top of the lane, with a garden
before it, exquisitely neat and brilliantly blooming. I stopped
at it. What business had I to approach the white door or touch the
glittering knocker? In what way could it possibly be the interest
of the inhabitants of that dwelling to serve me? Yet I drew near
and knocked. A mild-looking, cleanly-attired young woman opened
the door. In such a voice as might be expected from a hopeless
heart and fainting frame -- a voice wretchedly low and faltering
-- I asked if a servant was wanted here?
"No," said she; "we do not keep a servant."
"Can you tell me where I could get employment of any kind?" I
continued. "I am a stranger, without acquaintance in this place.
I want some work: no matter what."
But it was not her business to think for me, or to seek a place
for me: besides, in her eyes, how doubtful must have appeared my
character, position, tale. She shook her head, she "was sorry she
could give me no information," and the white door closed, quite
gently and civilly: but it shut me out. If she had held it open
a little longer, I believe I should have begged a piece of bread;
for I was now brought low.
I could not bear to return to the sordid village, where, besides,
no prospect of aid was visible. I should have longed rather to
deviate to a wood I saw not far off, which appeared in its thick
shade to offer inviting shelter; but I was so sick, so weak, so
gnawed with nature's cravings, instinct kept me roaming round abodes
where there was a chance of food. Solitude would be no solitude
-- rest no rest -- while the vulture, hunger, thus sank beak and
talons in my side.
I drew near houses; I left them, and came back again, and again I
wandered away: always repelled by the consciousness of having no
claim to ask -- no right to expect interest in my isolated lot.
Meantime, the afternoon advanced, while I thus wandered about like
a lost and starving dog. In crossing a field, I saw the church
spire before me: I hastened towards it. Near the churchyard, and
in the middle of a garden, stood a well-built though small house,
which I had no doubt was the parsonage. I remembered that strangers
who arrive at a place where they have no friends, and who want
employment, sometimes apply to the clergyman for introduction
and aid. It is the clergyman's function to help -- at least with
advice -- those who wished to help themselves. I seemed to have
something like a right to seek counsel here. Renewing then my
courage, and gathering my feeble remains of strength, I pushed on.
I reached the house, and knocked at the kitchen-door. An old woman
opened: I asked was this the parsonage?
"Was the clergyman in?"
"Would he be in soon?"
"No, he was gone from home."
"To a distance?"
"Not so far -- happen three mile. He had been called away by the
sudden death of his father: he was at Marsh End now, and would
very likely stay there a fortnight longer."
"Was there any lady of the house?"
"Nay, there was naught but her, and she was housekeeper;" and of
her, reader, I could not bear to ask the relief for want of which
I was sinking; I could not yet beg; and again I crawled away.
Once more I took off my handkerchief -- once more I thought of the
cakes of bread in the little shop. Oh, for but a crust! for but
one mouthful to allay the pang of famine! Instinctively I turned
my face again to the village; I found the shop again, and I went
in; and though others were there besides the woman I ventured the
request -- "Would she give me a roll for this handkerchief?"
She looked at me with evident suspicion: "Nay, she never sold
stuff i' that way."
Almost desperate, I asked for half a cake; she again refused. "How
could she tell where I had got the handkerchief?" she said.
"Would she take my gloves?"
"No! what could she do with them?"
Reader, it is not pleasant to dwell on these details. Some say
there is enjoyment in looking back to painful experience past;
but at this day I can scarcely bear to review the times to which I
allude: the moral degradation, blent with the physical suffering,
form too distressing a recollection ever to be willingly dwelt on.
I blamed none of those who repulsed me. I felt it was what was to
be expected, and what could not be helped: an ordinary beggar is
frequently an object of suspicion; a well-dressed beggar inevitably
so. To be sure, what I begged was employment; but whose business
was it to provide me with employment? Not, certainly, that of
persons who saw me then for the first time, and who knew nothing
about my character. And as to the woman who would not take my
handkerchief in exchange for her bread, why, she was right, if the
offer appeared to her sinister or the exchange unprofitable. Let
me condense now. I am sick of the subject.
A little before dark I passed a farm-house, at the open door
of which the farmer was sitting, eating his supper of bread
and cheese. I stopped and said -
"Will you give me a piece of bread? for I am very hungry." He cast
on me a glance of surprise; but without answering, he cut a thick
slice from his loaf, and gave it to me. I imagine he did not think
I was a beggar, but only an eccentric sort of lady, who had taken
a fancy to his brown loaf. As soon as I was out of sight of his
house, I sat down and ate it.
I could not hope to get a lodging under a roof, and sought it in
the wood I have before alluded to. But my night was wretched, my
rest broken: the ground was damp, the air cold: besides, intruders
passed near me more than once, and I had again and again to change
my quarters; no sense of safety or tranquillity befriended me.
Towards morning it rained; the whole of the following day was
wet. Do not ask me, reader, to give a minute account of that day;
as before, I sought work; as before, I was repulsed; as before, I
starved; but once did food pass my lips. At the door of a cottage
I saw a little girl about to throw a mess of cold porridge into a
pig trough. "Will you give me that?" I asked.
She stared at me. "Mother!" she exclaimed, "there is a woman
wants me to give her these porridge."
"Well lass," replied a voice within, "give it her if she's a beggar.
T' pig doesn't want it."
The girl emptied the stiffened mould into my hand, and I devoured
As the wet twilight deepened, I stopped in a solitary bridle-path,
which I had been pursuing an hour or more.
"My strength is quite failing me," I said in a soliloquy. "I feel
I cannot go much farther. Shall I be an outcast again this night?
While the rain descends so, must I lay my head on the cold, drenched
ground? I fear I cannot do otherwise: for who will receive me? But
it will be very dreadful, with this feeling of hunger, faintness,
chill, and this sense of desolation -- this total prostration of
hope. In all likelihood, though, I should die before morning. And
why cannot I reconcile myself to the prospect of death? Why do I
struggle to retain a valueless life? Because I know, or believe,
Mr. Rochester is living: and then, to die of want and cold is
a fate to which nature cannot submit passively. Oh, Providence!
sustain me a little longer! Aid! -- direct me!"
My glazed eye wandered over the dim and misty landscape. I saw
I had strayed far from the village: it was quite out of sight.
The very cultivation surrounding it had disappeared. I had, by
cross-ways and by-paths, once more drawn near the tract of moorland;
and now, only a few fields, almost as wild and unproductive as the
heath from which they were scarcely reclaimed, lay between me and
the dusky hill.
"Well, I would rather die yonder than in a street or on a frequented
road," I reflected. "And far better that crows and ravens -- if
any ravens there be in these regions -- should pick my flesh from
my bones, than that they should be prisoned in a workhouse coffin
and moulder in a pauper's grave."
To the hill, then, I turned. I reached it. It remained now only
to find a hollow where I could lie down, and feel at least hidden,
if not secure. But all the surface of the waste looked level.
It showed no variation but of tint: green, where rush and moss
overgrew the marshes; black, where the dry soil bore only heath.
Dark as it was getting, I could still see these changes, though
but as mere alternations of light and shade; for colour had faded
with the daylight.
My eye still roved over the sullen swell and along the moor-edge,
vanishing amidst the wildest scenery, when at one dim point, far
in among the marshes and the ridges, a light sprang up. "That is
an ignis fatuus," was my first thought; and I expected it would
soon vanish. It burnt on, however, quite steadily, neither receding
nor advancing. "Is it, then, a bonfire just kindled?" I questioned.
I watched to see whether it would spread: but no; as it did not
diminish, so it did not enlarge. "It may be a candle in a house,"
I then conjectured; "but if so, I can never reach it. It is much
too far away: and were it within a yard of me, what would it avail?
I should but knock at the door to have it shut in my face."
And I sank down where I stood, and hid my face against the ground.
I lay still a while: the night-wind swept over the hill and over
me, and died moaning in the distance; the rain fell fast, wetting
me afresh to the skin. Could I but have stiffened to the still
frost -- the friendly numbness of death -- it might have pelted
on; I should not have felt it; but my yet living flesh shuddered
at its chilling influence. I rose ere long.
The light was yet there, shining dim but constant through the rain.
I tried to walk again: I dragged my exhausted limbs slowly towards
it. It led me aslant over the hill, through a wide bog, which
would have been impassable in winter, and was splashy and shaking
even now, in the height of summer. Here I fell twice; but as often
I rose and rallied my faculties. This light was my forlorn hope:
I must gain it.
Having crossed the marsh, I saw a trace of white over the moor.
I approached it; it was a road or a track: it led straight up to
the light, which now beamed from a sort of knoll, amidst a clump
of trees -- firs, apparently, from what I could distinguish of the
character of their forms and foliage through the gloom. My star
vanished as I drew near: some obstacle had intervened between
me and it. I put out my hand to feel the dark mass before me: I
discriminated the rough stones of a low wall -- above it, something
like palisades, and within, a high and prickly hedge. I groped
on. Again a whitish object gleamed before me: it was a gate --
a wicket; it moved on its hinges as I touched it. On each side
stood a sable bush-holly or yew.
Entering the gate and passing the shrubs, the silhouette of a house
rose to view, black, low, and rather long; but the guiding light
shone nowhere. All was obscurity. Were the inmates retired to
rest? I feared it must be so. In seeking the door, I turned an
angle: there shot out the friendly gleam again, from the lozenged
panes of a very small latticed window, within a foot of the ground,
made still smaller by the growth of ivy or some other creeping
plant, whose leaves clustered thick over the portion of the house
wall in which it was set. The aperture was so screened and narrow,
that curtain or shutter had been deemed unnecessary; and when I
stooped down and put aside the spray of foliage shooting over it,
I could see all within. I could see clearly a room with a sanded
floor, clean scoured; a dresser of walnut, with pewter plates
ranged in rows, reflecting the redness and radiance of a glowing
peat-fire. I could see a clock, a white deal table, some chairs.
The candle, whose ray had been my beacon, burnt on the table; and
by its light an elderly woman, somewhat rough-looking, but scrupulously
clean, like all about her, was knitting a stocking.
I noticed these objects cursorily only -- in them there was nothing
extraordinary. A group of more interest appeared near the hearth,
sitting still amidst the rosy peace and warmth suffusing it. Two
young, graceful women -- ladies in every point -- sat, one in a low
rocking-chair, the other on a lower stool; both wore deep mourning
of crape and bombazeen, which sombre garb singularly set off very
fair necks and faces: a large old pointer dog rested its massive
head on the knee of one girl -- in the lap of the other was cushioned
a black cat.
A strange place was this humble kitchen for such occupants! Who
were they? They could not be the daughters of the elderly person
at the table; for she looked like a rustic, and they were all
delicacy and cultivation. I had nowhere seen such faces as theirs:
and yet, as I gazed on them, I seemed intimate with every lineament.
I cannot call them handsome -- they were too pale and grave for
the word: as they each bent over a book, they looked thoughtful
almost to severity. A stand between them supported a second candle
and two great volumes, to which they frequently referred, comparing
them, seemingly, with the smaller books they held in their hands,
like people consulting a dictionary to aid them in the task of
translation. This scene was as silent as if all the figures had
been shadows and the firelit apartment a picture: so hushed was
it, I could hear the cinders fall from the grate, the clock tick
in its obscure corner; and I even fancied I could distinguish the
click-click of the woman's knitting-needles. When, therefore, a
voice broke the strange stillness at last, it was audible enough
"Listen, Diana," said one of the absorbed students; "Franz and
old Daniel are together in the night-time, and Franz is telling a
dream from which he has awakened in terror -- listen!" And in a
low voice she read something, of which not one word was intelligible
to me; for it was in an unknown tongue -- neither French nor Latin.
Whether it were Greek or German I could not tell.
"That is strong," she said, when she had finished: "I relish it."
The other girl, who had lifted her head to listen to her sister,
repeated, while she gazed at the fire, a line of what had been
read. At a later day, I knew the language and the book; therefore,
I will here quote the line: though, when I first heard it, it was
only like a stroke on sounding brass to me -- conveying no meaning:-
"'Da trat hervor Einer, anzusehen wie die Sternen Nacht.' Good!
good!" she exclaimed, while her dark and deep eye sparkled. "There
you have a dim and mighty archangel fitly set before you! The
line is worth a hundred pages of fustian. 'Ich wage die Gedanken
in der Schale meines Zornes und die Werke mit dem Gewichte meines
Grimms.' I like it!"
Both were again silent.
"Is there ony country where they talk i' that way?" asked the old
woman, looking up from her knitting.
"Yes, Hannah -- a far larger country than England, where they talk
in no other way."
"Well, for sure case, I knawn't how they can understand t' one
t'other: and if either o' ye went there, ye could tell what they
said, I guess?"
"We could probably tell something of what they said, but not all --
for we are not as clever as you think us, Hannah. We don't speak
German, and we cannot read it without a dictionary to help us."
"And what good does it do you?"
"We mean to teach it some time -- or at least the elements, as they
say; and then we shall get more money than we do now."
"Varry like: but give ower studying; ye've done enough for to-night."
"I think we have: at least I'm tired. Mary, are you?"
"Mortally: after all, it's tough work fagging away at a language
with no master but a lexicon."
"It is, especially such a language as this crabbed but glorious
Deutsch. I wonder when St. John will come home."
"Surely he will not be long now: it is just ten (looking at a
little gold watch she drew from her girdle). It rains fast, Hannah:
will you have the goodness to look at the fire in the parlour?"
The woman rose: she opened a door, through which I dimly saw
a passage: soon I heard her stir a fire in an inner room; she
presently came back.
"Ah, childer!" said she, "it fair troubles me to go into yond'
room now: it looks so lonesome wi' the chair empty and set back
in a corner."
She wiped her eyes with her apron: the two girls, grave before,
looked sad now.
"But he is in a better place," continued Hannah: "we shouldn't
wish him here again. And then, nobody need to have a quieter death
nor he had."
"You say he never mentioned us?" inquired one of the ladies.
"He hadn't time, bairn: he was gone in a minute, was your father.
He had been a bit ailing like the day before, but naught to signify;
and when Mr. St. John asked if he would like either o' ye to be
sent for, he fair laughed at him. He began again with a bit of a
heaviness in his head the next day -- that is, a fortnight sin' --
and he went to sleep and niver wakened: he wor a'most stark when
your brother went into t' chamber and fand him. Ah, childer!
that's t' last o' t' old stock -- for ye and Mr. St. John is like
of different soart to them 'at's gone; for all your mother wor mich
i' your way, and a'most as book-learned. She wor the pictur' o'
ye, Mary: Diana is more like your father."
I thought them so similar I could not tell where the old servant
(for such I now concluded her to be) saw the difference. Both were
fair complexioned and slenderly made; both possessed faces full of
distinction and intelligence. One, to be sure, had hair a shade
darker than the other, and there was a difference in their style
of wearing it; Mary's pale brown locks were parted and braided
smooth: Diana's duskier tresses covered her neck with thick curls.
The clock struck ten.
"Ye'll want your supper, I am sure," observed Hannah; "and so will
Mr. St. John when he comes in."
And she proceeded to prepare the meal. The ladies rose; they
seemed about to withdraw to the parlour. Till this moment, I had
been so intent on watching them, their appearance and conversation
had excited in me so keen an interest, I had half-forgotten my own
wretched position: now it recurred to me. More desolate, more
desperate than ever, it seemed from contrast. And how impossible
did it appear to touch the inmates of this house with concern on
my behalf; to make them believe in the truth of my wants and woes
-- to induce them to vouchsafe a rest for my wanderings! As I
groped out the door, and knocked at it hesitatingly, I felt that
last idea to be a mere chimera. Hannah opened.
"What do you want?" she inquired, in a voice of surprise, as she
surveyed me by the light of the candle she held.
"May I speak to your mistresses?" I said.
"You had better tell me what you have to say to them. Where do
you come from?"
"I am a stranger."
"What is your business here at this hour?"
"I want a night's shelter in an out-house or anywhere, and a morsel
of bread to eat."
Distrust, the very feeling I dreaded, appeared in Hannah's face.
"I'll give you a piece of bread," she said, after a pause; "but we
can't take in a vagrant to lodge. It isn't likely."
"Do let me speak to your mistresses."
"No, not I. What can they do for you? You should not be roving
about now; it looks very ill."
"But where shall I go if you drive me away? What shall I do?"
"Oh, I'll warrant you know where to go and what to do. Mind
you don't do wrong, that's all. Here is a penny; now go -- "
"A penny cannot feed me, and I have no strength to go farther.
Don't shut the door:- oh, don't, for God's sake!"
"I must; the rain is driving in -- "
"Tell the young ladies. Let me see them- "
"Indeed, I will not. You are not what you ought to be, or you
wouldn't make such a noise. Move off."
"But I must die if I am turned away."
"Not you. I'm fear'd you have some ill plans agate, that bring you
about folk's houses at this time o' night. If you've any followers
-- housebreakers or such like -- anywhere near, you may tell them
we are not by ourselves in the house; we have a gentleman, and
dogs, and guns." Here the honest but inflexible servant clapped
the door to and bolted it within.
This was the climax. A pang of exquisite suffering -- a throe
of true despair -- rent and heaved my heart. Worn out, indeed, I
was; not another step could I stir. I sank on the wet doorstep: I
groaned -- I wrung my hands -- I wept in utter anguish. Oh, this
spectre of death! Oh, this last hour, approaching in such horror!
Alas, this isolation -- this banishment from my kind! Not only the
anchor of hope, but the footing of fortitude was gone -- at least
for a moment; but the last I soon endeavoured to regain.
"I can but die," I said, "and I believe in God. Let me try to wait
His will in silence."
These words I not only thought, but uttered; and thrusting back all
my misery into my heart, I made an effort to compel it to remain
there -- dumb and still.
"All men must die," said a voice quite close at hand; "but all
are not condemned to meet a lingering and premature doom, such as
yours would be if you perished here of want."
"Who or what speaks?" I asked, terrified at the unexpected sound,
and incapable now of deriving from any occurrence a hope of aid. A
form was near -- what form, the pitch-dark night and my enfeebled
vision prevented me from distinguishing. With a loud long knock,
the new-comer appealed to the door.
"Is it you, Mr. St. John?" cried Hannah.
"Yes -- yes; open quickly."
"Well, how wet and cold you must be, such a wild night as it is!
Come in -- your sisters are quite uneasy about you, and I believe
there are bad folks about. There has been a beggar-woman --
I declare she is not gone yet! -- laid down there. Get up! for
shame! Move off, I say!"
"Hush, Hannah! I have a word to say to the woman. You have done
your duty in excluding, now let me do mine in admitting her. I was
near, and listened to both you and her. I think this is a peculiar
case -- I must at least examine into it. Young woman, rise, and
pass before me into the house."
With difficulty I obeyed him. Presently I stood within that
clean, bright kitchen -- on the very hearth -- trembling, sickening;
conscious of an aspect in the last degree ghastly, wild, and
weather-beaten. The two ladies, their brother, Mr. St. John, the
old servant, were all gazing at me.
"St. John, who is it?" I heard one ask.
"I cannot tell: I found her at the door," was the reply.
"She does look white," said Hannah.
"As white as clay or death," was responded. "She will fall: let