Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 22


CHAPTER XXII


Mr. Rochester had given me but one week's leave of absence:  yet a
month elapsed before I quitted Gateshead.  I wished to leave
immediately after the funeral, but Georgiana entreated me to stay
till she could get off to London, whither she was now at last
invited by her uncle, Mr. Gibson, who had come down to direct his
sister's interment and settle the family affairs.  Georgiana said
she dreaded being left alone with Eliza; from her she got neither
sympathy in her dejection, support in her fears, nor aid in her
preparations; so I bore with her feeble-minded wailings and selfish
lamentations as well as I could, and did my best in sewing for her
and packing her dresses.  It is true, that while I worked, she would
idle; and I thought to myself, "If you and I were destined to live
always together, cousin, we would commence matters on a different
footing.  I should not settle tamely down into being the forbearing
party; I should assign you your share of labour, and compel you to
accomplish it, or else it should be left undone:  I should insist,
also, on your keeping some of those drawling, half-insincere
complaints hushed in your own breast.  It is only because our
connection happens to be very transitory, and comes at a peculiarly
mournful season, that I consent thus to render it so patient and
compliant on my part."

At last I saw Georgiana off; but now it was Eliza's turn to request
me to stay another week.  Her plans required all her time and
attention, she said; she was about to depart for some unknown
bourne; and all day long she stayed in her own room, her door bolted
within, filling trunks, emptying drawers, burning papers, and
holding no communication with any one.  She wished me to look after
the house, to see callers, and answer notes of condolence.

One morning she told me I was at liberty.  "And," she added, "I am
obliged to you for your valuable services and discreet conduct!
There is some difference between living with such an one as you and
with Georgiana:  you perform your own part in life and burden no
one.  To-morrow," she continued, "I set out for the Continent.  I
shall take up my abode in a religious house near Lisle--a nunnery
you would call it; there I shall be quiet and unmolested.  I shall
devote myself for a time to the examination of the Roman Catholic
dogmas, and to a careful study of the workings of their system:  if
I find it to be, as I half suspect it is, the one best calculated to
ensure the doing of all things decently and in order, I shall
embrace the tenets of Rome and probably take the veil."

I neither expressed surprise at this resolution nor attempted to
dissuade her from it.  "The vocation will fit you to a hair," I
thought:  "much good may it do you!"

When we parted, she said:  "Good-bye, cousin Jane Eyre; I wish you
well:  you have some sense."

I then returned:  "You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what
you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a
French convent.  However, it is not my business, and so it suits
you, I don't much care."

"You are in the right," said she; and with these words we each went
our separate way.  As I shall not have occasion to refer either to
her or her sister again, I may as well mention here, that Georgiana
made an advantageous match with a wealthy worn-out man of fashion,
and that Eliza actually took the veil, and is at this day superior
of the convent where she passed the period of her novitiate, and
which she endowed with her fortune.

How people feel when they are returning home from an absence, long
or short, I did not know:  I had never experienced the sensation.  I
had known what it was to come back to Gateshead when a child after a
long walk, to be scolded for looking cold or gloomy; and later, what
it was to come back from church to Lowood, to long for a plenteous
meal and a good fire, and to be unable to get either.  Neither of
these returnings was very pleasant or desirable:  no magnet drew me
to a given point, increasing in its strength of attraction the
nearer I came.  The return to Thornfield was yet to be tried.

My journey seemed tedious--very tedious:  fifty miles one day, a
night spent at an inn; fifty miles the next day.  During the first
twelve hours I thought of Mrs. Reed in her last moments; I saw her
disfigured and discoloured face, and heard her strangely altered
voice.  I mused on the funeral day, the coffin, the hearse, the
black train of tenants and servants--few was the number of
relatives--the gaping vault, the silent church, the solemn service.
Then I thought of Eliza and Georgiana; I beheld one the cynosure of
a ball-room, the other the inmate of a convent cell; and I dwelt on
and analysed their separate peculiarities of person and character.
The evening arrival at the great town of--scattered these thoughts;
night gave them quite another turn:  laid down on my traveller's
bed, I left reminiscence for anticipation.

I was going back to Thornfield:  but how long was I to stay there?
Not long; of that I was sure.  I had heard from Mrs. Fairfax in the
interim of my absence:  the party at the hall was dispersed; Mr.
Rochester had left for London three weeks ago, but he was then
expected to return in a fortnight.  Mrs. Fairfax surmised that he
was gone to make arrangements for his wedding, as he had talked of
purchasing a new carriage:  she said the idea of his marrying Miss
Ingram still seemed strange to her; but from what everybody said,
and from what she had herself seen, she could no longer doubt that
the event would shortly take place.  "You would be strangely
incredulous if you did doubt it," was my mental comment.  "I don't
doubt it."

The question followed, "Where was I to go?"  I dreamt of Miss Ingram
all the night:  in a vivid morning dream I saw her closing the gates
of Thornfield against me and pointing me out another road; and Mr.
Rochester looked on with his arms folded--smiling sardonically, as
it seemed, at both her and me.

I had not notified to Mrs. Fairfax the exact day of my return; for I
did not wish either car or carriage to meet me at Millcote.  I
proposed to walk the distance quietly by myself; and very quietly,
after leaving my box in the ostler's care, did I slip away from the
George Inn, about six o'clock of a June evening, and take the old
road to Thornfield:  a road which lay chiefly through fields, and
was now little frequented.

It was not a bright or splendid summer evening, though fair and
soft:  the haymakers were at work all along the road; and the sky,
though far from cloudless, was such as promised well for the future:
its blue--where blue was visible--was mild and settled, and its
cloud strata high and thin.  The west, too, was warm:  no watery
gleam chilled it--it seemed as if there was a fire lit, an altar
burning behind its screen of marbled vapour, and out of apertures
shone a golden redness.

I felt glad as the road shortened before me:  so glad that I stopped
once to ask myself what that joy meant:  and to remind reason that
it was not to my home I was going, or to a permanent resting-place,
or to a place where fond friends looked out for me and waited my
arrival.  "Mrs. Fairfax will smile you a calm welcome, to be sure,"
said I; "and little Adele will clap her hands and jump to see you:
but you know very well you are thinking of another than they, and
that he is not thinking of you."

But what is so headstrong as youth?  What so blind as inexperience?
These affirmed that it was pleasure enough to have the privilege of
again looking on Mr. Rochester, whether he looked on me or not; and
they added--"Hasten! hasten! be with him while you may:  but a few
more days or weeks, at most, and you are parted from him for ever!"
And then I strangled a new-born agony--a deformed thing which I
could not persuade myself to own and rear--and ran on.

They are making hay, too, in Thornfield meadows:  or rather, the
labourers are just quitting their work, and returning home with
their rakes on their shoulders, now, at the hour I arrive.  I have
but a field or two to traverse, and then I shall cross the road and
reach the gates.  How full the hedges are of roses!  But I have no
time to gather any; I want to be at the house.  I passed a tall
briar, shooting leafy and flowery branches across the path; I see
the narrow stile with stone steps; and I see--Mr. Rochester sitting
there, a book and a pencil in his hand; he is writing.

Well, he is not a ghost; yet every nerve I have is unstrung:  for a
moment I am beyond my own mastery.  What does it mean?  I did not
think I should tremble in this way when I saw him, or lose my voice
or the power of motion in his presence.  I will go back as soon as I
can stir:  I need not make an absolute fool of myself.  I know
another way to the house.  It does not signify if I knew twenty
ways; for he has seen me.

"Hillo!" he cries; and he puts up his book and his pencil.  "There
you are!  Come on, if you please."

I suppose I do come on; though in what fashion I know not; being
scarcely cognisant of my movements, and solicitous only to appear
calm; and, above all, to control the working muscles of my face--
which I feel rebel insolently against my will, and struggle to
express what I had resolved to conceal.  But I have a veil--it is
down:  I may make shift yet to behave with decent composure.

"And this is Jane Eyre?  Are you coming from Millcote, and on foot?
Yes--just one of your tricks:  not to send for a carriage, and come
clattering over street and road like a common mortal, but to steal
into the vicinage of your home along with twilight, just as if you
were a dream or a shade.  What the deuce have you done with yourself
this last month?"

"I have been with my aunt, sir, who is dead."

"A true Janian reply!  Good angels be my guard!  She comes from the
other world--from the abode of people who are dead; and tells me so
when she meets me alone here in the gloaming!  If I dared, I'd touch
you, to see if you are substance or shadow, you elf!--but I'd as
soon offer to take hold of a blue ignis fatuus light in a marsh.
Truant! truant!" he added, when he had paused an instant.  "Absent
from me a whole month, and forgetting me quite, I'll be sworn!"

I knew there would be pleasure in meeting my master again, even
though broken by the fear that he was so soon to cease to be my
master, and by the knowledge that I was nothing to him:  but there
was ever in Mr. Rochester (so at least I thought) such a wealth of
the power of communicating happiness, that to taste but of the
crumbs he scattered to stray and stranger birds like me, was to
feast genially.  His last words were balm:  they seemed to imply
that it imported something to him whether I forgot him or not.  And
he had spoken of Thornfield as my home--would that it were my home!

He did not leave the stile, and I hardly liked to ask to go by.  I
inquired soon if he had not been to London.

"Yes; I suppose you found that out by second-sight."

"Mrs. Fairfax told me in a letter."

"And did she inform you what I went to do?"

"Oh, yes, sir!  Everybody knew your errand."

"You must see the carriage, Jane, and tell me if you don't think it
will suit Mrs. Rochester exactly; and whether she won't look like
Queen Boadicea, leaning back against those purple cushions.  I wish,
Jane, I were a trifle better adapted to match with her externally.
Tell me now, fairy as you are--can't you give me a charm, or a
philter, or something of that sort, to make me a handsome man?"

"It would be past the power of magic, sir;" and, in thought, I
added, "A loving eye is all the charm needed:  to such you are
handsome enough; or rather your sternness has a power beyond
beauty."

Mr. Rochester had sometimes read my unspoken thoughts with an acumen
to me incomprehensible:  in the present instance he took no notice
of my abrupt vocal response; but he smiled at me with a certain
smile he had of his own, and which he used but on rare occasions.
He seemed to think it too good for common purposes:  it was the real
sunshine of feeling--he shed it over me now.

"Pass, Janet," said he, making room for me to cross the stile:  "go
up home, and stay your weary little wandering feet at a friend's
threshold."

All I had now to do was to obey him in silence:  no need for me to
colloquise further.  I got over the stile without a word, and meant
to leave him calmly.  An impulse held me fast--a force turned me
round.  I said--or something in me said for me, and in spite of me -

"Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness.  I am strangely
glad to get back again to you:  and wherever you are is my home--my
only home."

I walked on so fast that even he could hardly have overtaken me had
he tried.  Little Adele was half wild with delight when she saw me.
Mrs. Fairfax received me with her usual plain friendliness.  Leah
smiled, and even Sophie bid me "bon soir" with glee.  This was very
pleasant; there is no happiness like that of being loved by your
fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to
their comfort.

I that evening shut my eyes resolutely against the future:  I
stopped my cars against the voice that kept warning me of near
separation and coming grief.  When tea was over and Mrs. Fairfax had
taken her knitting, and I had assumed a low seat near her, and
Adele, kneeling on the carpet, had nestled close up to me, and a
sense of mutual affection seemed to surround us with a ring of
golden peace, I uttered a silent prayer that we might not be parted
far or soon; but when, as we thus sat, Mr. Rochester entered,
unannounced, and looking at us, seemed to take pleasure in the
spectacle of a group so amicable--when he said he supposed the old
lady was all right now that she had got her adopted daughter back
again, and added that he saw Adele was "prete e croquer sa petite
maman Anglaise"--I half ventured to hope that he would, even after
his marriage, keep us together somewhere under the shelter of his
protection, and not quite exiled from the sunshine of his presence.

A fortnight of dubious calm succeeded my return to Thornfield Hall.
Nothing was said of the master's marriage, and I saw no preparation
going on for such an event.  Almost every day I asked Mrs. Fairfax
if she had yet heard anything decided:  her answer was always in the
negative.  Once she said she had actually put the question to Mr.
Rochester as to when he was going to bring his bride home; but he
had answered her only by a joke and one of his queer looks, and she
could not tell what to make of him.

One thing specially surprised me, and that was, there were no
journeyings backward and forward, no visits to Ingram Park:  to be
sure it was twenty miles off, on the borders of another county; but
what was that distance to an ardent lover?  To so practised and
indefatigable a horseman as Mr. Rochester, it would be but a
morning's ride.  I began to cherish hopes I had no right to
conceive:  that the match was broken off; that rumour had been
mistaken; that one or both parties had changed their minds.  I used
to look at my master's face to see if it were sad or fierce; but I
could not remember the time when it had been so uniformly clear of
clouds or evil feelings.  If, in the moments I and my pupil spent
with him, I lacked spirits and sank into inevitable dejection, he
became even gay.  Never had he called me more frequently to his
presence; never been kinder to me when there--and, alas! never had I
loved him so well.


Charlotte Bronte