Chapter 23





CHAPTER XXIII


A splendid Midsummer shone over England:  skies so pure, suns so
radiant as were then seen in long succession, seldom favour even
singly, our wave-girt land.  It was as if a band of Italian days had
come from the South, like a flock of glorious passenger birds, and
lighted to rest them on the cliffs of Albion.  The hay was all got
in; the fields round Thornfield were green and shorn; the roads
white and baked; the trees were in their dark prime; hedge and wood,
full-leaved and deeply tinted, contrasted well with the sunny hue of
the cleared meadows between.

On Midsummer-eve, Adele, weary with gathering wild strawberries in
Hay Lane half the day, had gone to bed with the sun.  I watched her
drop asleep, and when I left her, I sought the garden.

It was now the sweetest hour of the twenty-four:- "Day its fervid
fires had wasted," and dew fell cool on panting plain and scorched
summit.  Where the sun had gone down in simple state--pure of the
pomp of clouds--spread a solemn purple, burning with the light of
red jewel and furnace flame at one point, on one hill-peak, and
extending high and wide, soft and still softer, over half heaven.
The east had its own charm or fine deep blue, and its own modest
gem, a casino and solitary star:  soon it would boast the moon; but
she was yet beneath the horizon.

I walked a while on the pavement; but a subtle, well-known scent--
that of a cigar--stole from some window; I saw the library casement
open a handbreadth; I knew I might be watched thence; so I went
apart into the orchard.  No nook in the grounds more sheltered and
more Eden-like; it was full of trees, it bloomed with flowers:  a
very high wall shut it out from the court, on one side; on the
other, a beech avenue screened it from the lawn.  At the bottom was
a sunk fence; its sole separation from lonely fields:  a winding
walk, bordered with laurels and terminating in a giant horse-
chestnut, circled at the base by a seat, led down to the fence.
Here one could wander unseen.  While such honey-dew fell, such
silence reigned, such gloaming gathered, I felt as if I could haunt
such shade for ever; but in threading the flower and fruit parterres
at the upper part of the enclosure, enticed there by the light the
now rising moon cast on this more open quarter, my step is stayed--
not by sound, not by sight, but once more by a warning fragrance.

Sweet-briar and southernwood, jasmine, pink, and rose have long been
yielding their evening sacrifice of incense:  this new scent is
neither of shrub nor flower; it is--I know it well--it is Mr.
Rochester's cigar.  I look round and I listen.  I see trees laden
with ripening fruit.  I hear a nightingale warbling in a wood half a
mile off; no moving form is visible, no coming step audible; but
that perfume increases:  I must flee.  I make for the wicket leading
to the shrubbery, and I see Mr. Rochester entering.  I step aside
into the ivy recess; he will not stay long:  he will soon return
whence he came, and if I sit still he will never see me.

But no--eventide is as pleasant to him as to me, and this antique
garden as attractive; and he strolls on, now lifting the gooseberry-
tree branches to look at the fruit, large as plums, with which they
are laden; now taking a ripe cherry from the wall; now stooping
towards a knot of flowers, either to inhale their fragrance or to
admire the dew-beads on their petals.  A great moth goes humming by
me; it alights on a plant at Mr. Rochester's foot:  he sees it, and
bends to examine it.

"Now, he has his back towards me," thought I, "and he is occupied
too; perhaps, if I walk softly, I can slip away unnoticed."

I trode on an edging of turf that the crackle of the pebbly gravel
might not betray me:  he was standing among the beds at a yard or
two distant from where I had to pass; the moth apparently engaged
him.  "I shall get by very well," I meditated.  As I crossed his
shadow, thrown long over the garden by the moon, not yet risen high,
he said quietly, without turning -

"Jane, come and look at this fellow."

I had made no noise:  he had not eyes behind--could his shadow feel?
I started at first, and then I approached him.

"Look at his wings," said he, "he reminds me rather of a West Indian
insect; one does not often see so large and gay a night-rover in
England; there! he is flown."

The moth roamed away.  I was sheepishly retreating also; but Mr.
Rochester followed me, and when we reached the wicket, he said -

"Turn back:  on so lovely a night it is a shame to sit in the house;
and surely no one can wish to go to bed while sunset is thus at
meeting with moonrise."

It is one of my faults, that though my tongue is sometimes prompt
enough at an answer, there are times when it sadly fails me in
framing an excuse; and always the lapse occurs at some crisis, when
a facile word or plausible pretext is specially wanted to get me out
of painful embarrassment.  I did not like to walk at this hour alone
with Mr. Rochester in the shadowy orchard; but I could not find a
reason to allege for leaving him.  I followed with lagging step, and
thoughts busily bent on discovering a means of extrication; but he
himself looked so composed and so grave also, I became ashamed of
feeling any confusion:  the evil--if evil existent or prospective
there was--seemed to lie with me only; his mind was unconscious and
quiet.

"Jane," he recommenced, as we entered the laurel walk, and slowly
strayed down in the direction of the sunk fence and the horse-
chestnut, "Thornfield is a pleasant place in summer, is it not?"

"Yes, sir."

"You must have become in some degree attached to the house,--you,
who have an eye for natural beauties, and a good deal of the organ
of Adhesiveness?"

"I am attached to it, indeed."

"And though I don't comprehend how it is, I perceive you have
acquired a degree of regard for that foolish little child Adele,
too; and even for simple dame Fairfax?"

"Yes, sir; in different ways, I have an affection for both."

"And would be sorry to part with them?"

"Yes."

"Pity!" he said, and sighed and paused.  "It is always the way of
events in this life," he continued presently:  "no sooner have you
got settled in a pleasant resting-place, than a voice calls out to
you to rise and move on, for the hour of repose is expired."

"Must I move on, sir?" I asked.  "Must I leave Thornfield?"

"I believe you must, Jane.  I am sorry, Janet, but I believe indeed
you must."

This was a blow:  but I did not let it prostrate me.

"Well, sir, I shall be ready when the order to march comes."

"It is come now--I must give it to-night."

"Then you ARE going to be married, sir?"

"Ex-act-ly--pre-cise-ly:  with your usual acuteness, you have hit
the nail straight on the head."

"Soon, sir?"

"Very soon, my--that is, Miss Eyre:  and you'll remember, Jane, the
first time I, or Rumour, plainly intimated to you that it was my
intention to put my old bachelor's neck into the sacred noose, to
enter into the holy estate of matrimony--to take Miss Ingram to my
bosom, in short (she's an extensive armful:  but that's not to the
point--one can't have too much of such a very excellent thing as my
beautiful Blanche):  well, as I was saying--listen to me, Jane!
You're not turning your head to look after more moths, are you?
That was only a lady-clock, child, 'flying away home.'  I wish to
remind you that it was you who first said to me, with that
discretion I respect in you--with that foresight, prudence, and
humility which befit your responsible and dependent position--that
in case I married Miss Ingram, both you and little Adele had better
trot forthwith.  I pass over the sort of slur conveyed in this
suggestion on the character of my beloved; indeed, when you are far
away, Janet, I'll try to forget it:  I shall notice only its wisdom;
which is such that I have made it my law of action.  Adele must go
to school; and you, Miss Eyre, must get a new situation."

"Yes, sir, I will advertise immediately:  and meantime, I suppose--"
I was going to say, "I suppose I may stay here, till I find another
shelter to betake myself to:" but I stopped, feeling it would not do
to risk a long sentence, for my voice was not quite under command.

"In about a month I hope to be a bridegroom," continued Mr.
Rochester; "and in the interim, I shall myself look out for
employment and an asylum for you."

"Thank you, sir; I am sorry to give--"

"Oh, no need to apologise!  I consider that when a dependent does
her duty as well as you have done yours, she has a sort of claim
upon her employer for any little assistance he can conveniently
render her; indeed I have already, through my future mother-in-law,
heard of a place that I think will suit:  it is to undertake the
education of the five daughters of Mrs. Dionysius O'Gall of
Bitternutt Lodge, Connaught, Ireland.  You'll like Ireland, I think:
they're such warm-hearted people there, they say."

"It is a long way off, sir."

"No matter--a girl of your sense will not object to the voyage or
the distance."

"Not the voyage, but the distance:  and then the sea is a barrier--"

"From what, Jane?"

"From England and from Thornfield:  and--"

"Well?"

"From YOU, sir."

I said this almost involuntarily, and, with as little sanction of
free will, my tears gushed out.  I did not cry so as to be heard,
however; I avoided sobbing.  The thought of Mrs. O'Gall and
Bitternutt Lodge struck cold to my heart; and colder the thought of
all the brine and foam, destined, as it seemed, to rush between me
and the master at whose side I now walked, and coldest the
remembrance of the wider ocean--wealth, caste, custom intervened
between me and what I naturally and inevitably loved.

"It is a long way," I again said.

"It is, to be sure; and when you get to Bitternutt Lodge, Connaught,
Ireland, I shall never see you again, Jane:  that's morally certain.
I never go over to Ireland, not having myself much of a fancy for
the country.  We have been good friends, Jane; have we not?"

"Yes, sir."

"And when friends are on the eve of separation, they like to spend
the little time that remains to them close to each other.  Come!
we'll talk over the voyage and the parting quietly half-an-hour or
so, while the stars enter into their shining life up in heaven
yonder:  here is the chestnut tree:  here is the bench at its old
roots.  Come, we will sit there in peace to-night, though we should
never more be destined to sit there together."  He seated me and
himself.

"It is a long way to Ireland, Janet, and I am sorry to send my
little friend on such weary travels:  but if I can't do better, how
is it to be helped?  Are you anything akin to me, do you think,
Jane?"

I could risk no sort of answer by this time:  my heart was still.

"Because," he said, "I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to
you--especially when you are near me, as now:  it is as if I had a
string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably
knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of
your little frame.  And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred
miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of
communion will be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should
take to bleeding inwardly.  As for you,--you'd forget me."

"That I NEVER should, sir:  you know--"  Impossible to proceed.

"Jane, do you hear that nightingale singing in the wood?  Listen!"

In listening, I sobbed convulsively; for I could repress what I
endured no longer; I was obliged to yield, and I was shaken from
head to foot with acute distress.  When I did speak, it was only to
express an impetuous wish that I had never been born, or never come
to Thornfield.

"Because you are sorry to leave it?"

The vehemence of emotion, stirred by grief and love within me, was
claiming mastery, and struggling for full sway, and asserting a
right to predominate, to overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last:
yes,--and to speak.

"I grieve to leave Thornfield:  I love Thornfield:- I love it,
because I have lived in it a full and delightful life,--momentarily
at least.  I have not been trampled on.  I have not been petrified.
I have not been buried with inferior minds, and excluded from every
glimpse of communion with what is bright and energetic and high.  I
have talked, face to face, with what I reverence, with what I
delight in,--with an original, a vigorous, an expanded mind.  I have
known you, Mr. Rochester; and it strikes me with terror and anguish
to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever.  I see the
necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of
death."

"Where do you see the necessity?" he asked suddenly.

"Where?  You, sir, have placed it before me."

"In what shape?"

"In the shape of Miss Ingram; a noble and beautiful woman,--your
bride."

"My bride!  What bride?  I have no bride!"

"But you will have."

"Yes;--I will!--I will!"  He set his teeth.

"Then I must go:- you have said it yourself."

"No:  you must stay!  I swear it--and the oath shall be kept."

"I tell you I must go!" I retorted, roused to something like
passion.  "Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you
think I am an automaton?--a machine without feelings? and can bear
to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of
living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think, because I am poor,
obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think
wrong!--I have as much soul as you,--and full as much heart!  And if
God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have
made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave
you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom,
conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;--it is my spirit that
addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave,
and we stood at God's feet, equal,--as we are!"

"As we are!" repeated Mr. Rochester--"so," he added, enclosing me in
his arms.  Gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips:
"so, Jane!"

"Yes, so, sir," I rejoined:  "and yet not so; for you are a married
man--or as good as a married man, and wed to one inferior to you--to
one with whom you have no sympathy--whom I do not believe you truly
love; for I have seen and heard you sneer at her.  I would scorn
such a union:  therefore I am better than you--let me go!"

"Where, Jane?  To Ireland?"

"Yes--to Ireland.  I have spoken my mind, and can go anywhere now."

"Jane, be still; don't struggle so, like a wild frantic bird that is
rending its own plumage in its desperation."

"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with
an independent will, which I now exert to leave you."

Another effort set me at liberty, and I stood erect before him.

"And your will shall decide your destiny," he said:  "I offer you my
hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions."

"You play a farce, which I merely laugh at."

"I ask you to pass through life at my side--to be my second self,
and best earthly companion."

"For that fate you have already made your choice, and must abide by
it."

"Jane, be still a few moments:  you are over-excited:  I will be
still too."

A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled
through the boughs of the chestnut:  it wandered away--away--to an
indefinite distance--it died.  The nightingale's song was then the
only voice of the hour:  in listening to it, I again wept.  Mr.
Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously.  Some time
passed before he spoke; he at last said -

"Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one
another."

"I will never again come to your side:  I am torn away now, and
cannot return."

"But, Jane, I summon you as my wife:  it is you only I intend to
marry."

I was silent:  I thought he mocked me.

"Come, Jane--come hither."

"Your bride stands between us."

He rose, and with a stride reached me.

"My bride is here," he said, again drawing me to him, "because my
equal is here, and my likeness.  Jane, will you marry me?"

Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp:
for I was still incredulous.

"Do you doubt me, Jane?"

"Entirely."

"You have no faith in me?"

"Not a whit."

"Am I a liar in your eyes?" he asked passionately.  "Little sceptic,
you SHALL be convinced.  What love have I for Miss Ingram?  None:
and that you know.  What love has she for me?  None:  as I have
taken pains to prove:  I caused a rumour to reach her that my
fortune was not a third of what was supposed, and after that I
presented myself to see the result; it was coldness both from her
and her mother.  I would not--I could not--marry Miss Ingram.  You--
you strange, you almost unearthly thing!--I love as my own flesh.
You--poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are--I entreat to
accept me as a husband."

"What, me!" I ejaculated, beginning in his earnestness--and
especially in his incivility--to credit his sincerity:  "me who have
not a friend in the world but you-  if you are my friend:  not a
shilling but what you have given me?"

"You, Jane, I must have you for my own--entirely my own.  Will you
be mine?  Say yes, quickly."

"Mr. Rochester, let me look at your face:  turn to the moonlight."

"Why?"

"Because I want to read your countenance--turn!"

"There! you will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled,
scratched page.  Read on:  only make haste, for I suffer."

His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there
were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes

"Oh, Jane, you torture me!" he exclaimed.  "With that searching and
yet faithful and generous look, you torture me!"

"How can I do that?  If you are true, and your offer real, my only
feelings to you must be gratitude and devotion--they cannot
torture."

"Gratitude!" he ejaculated; and added wildly--"Jane accept me
quickly.  Say, Edward--give me my name--Edward--I will marry you."

"Are you in earnest?  Do you truly love me?  Do you sincerely wish
me to be your wife?"

"I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it."

"Then, sir, I will marry you."

"Edward--my little wife!"

"Dear Edward!"

"Come to me--come to me entirely now," said he; and added, in his
deepest tone, speaking in my ear as his cheek was laid on mine,
"Make my happiness--I will make yours."

"God pardon me!" he subjoined ere long; "and man meddle not with me:
I have her, and will hold her."

"There is no one to meddle, sir.  I have no kindred to interfere."

"No--that is the best of it," he said.  And if I had loved him less
I should have thought his accent and look of exultation savage; but,
sitting by him, roused from the nightmare of parting--called to the
paradise of union--I thought only of the bliss given me to drink in
so abundant a flow.  Again and again he said, "Are you happy, Jane?"
And again and again I answered, "Yes."  After which he murmured, "It
will atone--it will atone.  Have I not found her friendless, and
cold, and comfortless?  Will I not guard, and cherish, and solace
her?  Is there not love in my heart, and constancy in my resolves?
It will expiate at God's tribunal.  I know my Maker sanctions what I
do.  For the world's judgment--I wash my hands thereof.  For man's
opinion--I defy it."

But what had befallen the night?  The moon was not yet set, and we
were all in shadow:  I could scarcely see my master's face, near as
I was.  And what ailed the chestnut tree? it writhed and groaned;
while wind roared in the laurel walk, and came sweeping over us.

"We must go in," said Mr. Rochester:  "the weather changes.  I could
have sat with thee till morning, Jane."

"And so," thought I, "could I with you."  I should have said so,
perhaps, but a livid, vivid spark leapt out of a cloud at which I
was looking, and there was a crack, a crash, and a close rattling
peal; and I thought only of hiding my dazzled eyes against Mr.
Rochester's shoulder.

The rain rushed down.  He hurried me up the walk, through the
grounds, and into the house; but we were quite wet before we could
pass the threshold.  He was taking off my shawl in the hall, and
shaking the water out of my loosened hair, when Mrs. Fairfax emerged
from her room.  I did not observe her at first, nor did Mr.
Rochester.  The lamp was lit.  The clock was on the stroke of
twelve.

"Hasten to take off your wet things," said he; "and before you go,
good-night--good-night, my darling!"

He kissed me repeatedly.  When I looked up, on leaving his arms,
there stood the widow, pale, grave, and amazed.  I only smiled at
her, and ran upstairs.  "Explanation will do for another time,"
thought I.  Still, when I reached my chamber, I felt a pang at the
idea she should even temporarily misconstrue what she had seen.  But
joy soon effaced every other feeling; and loud as the wind blew,
near and deep as the thunder crashed, fierce and frequent as the
lightning gleamed, cataract-like as the rain fell during a storm of
two hours' duration, I experienced no fear and little awe.  Mr.
Rochester came thrice to my door in the course of it, to ask if I
was safe and tranquil:  and that was comfort, that was strength for
anything.

Before I left my bed in the morning, little Adele came running in to
tell me that the great horse-chestnut at the bottom of the orchard
had been struck by lightning in the night, and half of it split
away.




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