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Chapter 26


CHAPTER XXVI


Sophie came at seven to dress me:  she was very long indeed in
accomplishing her task; so long that Mr. Rochester, grown, I
suppose, impatient of my delay, sent up to ask why I did not come.
She was just fastening my veil (the plain square of blond after all)
to my hair with a brooch; I hurried from under her hands as soon as
I could.

"Stop!" she cried in French.  "Look at yourself in the mirror:  you
have not taken one peep."

So I turned at the door:  I saw a robed and veiled figure, so unlike
my usual self that it seemed almost the image of a stranger.
"Jane!" called a voice, and I hastened down.  I was received at the
foot of the stairs by Mr. Rochester.

"Lingerer!" he said, "my brain is on fire with impatience, and you
tarry so long!"

He took me into the dining-room, surveyed me keenly all over,
pronounced me "fair as a lily, and not only the pride of his life,
but the desire of his eyes," and then telling me he would give me
but ten minutes to eat some breakfast, he rang the bell.  One of his
lately hired servants, a footman, answered it.

"Is John getting the carriage ready?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is the luggage brought down?"

"They are bringing it down, sir."

"Go you to the church:  see if Mr. Wood (the clergyman) and the
clerk are there:  return and tell me."

The church, as the reader knows, was but just beyond the gates; the
footman soon returned.

"Mr. Wood is in the vestry, sir, putting on his surplice."

"And the carriage?"

"The horses are harnessing."

"We shall not want it to go to church; but it must be ready the
moment we return:  all the boxes and luggage arranged and strapped
on, and the coachman in his seat."

"Yes, sir."

"Jane, are you ready?"

I rose.  There were no groomsmen, no bridesmaids, no relatives to
wait for or marshal:  none but Mr. Rochester and I.  Mrs. Fairfax
stood in the hall as we passed.   I would fain have spoken to her,
but my hand was held by a grasp of iron:  I was hurried along by a
stride I could hardly follow; and to look at Mr. Rochester's face
was to feel that not a second of delay would be tolerated for any
purpose.  I wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did--so
bent up to a purpose, so grimly resolute:  or who, under such
steadfast brows, ever revealed such flaming and flashing eyes.

I know not whether the day was fair or foul; in descending the
drive, I gazed neither on sky nor earth:  my heart was with my eyes;
and both seemed migrated into Mr. Rochester's frame.  I wanted to
see the invisible thing on which, as we went along, he appeared to
fasten a glance fierce and fell.  I wanted to feel the thoughts
whose force he seemed breasting and resisting.

At the churchyard wicket he stopped:  he discovered I was quite out
of breath.  "Am I cruel in my love?" he said.  "Delay an instant:
lean on me, Jane."

And now I can recall the picture of the grey old house of God rising
calm before me, of a rook wheeling round the steeple, of a ruddy
morning sky beyond.  I remember something, too, of the green grave-
mounds; and I have not forgotten, either, two figures of strangers
straying amongst the low hillocks and reading the mementoes graven
on the few mossy head-stones.  I noticed them, because, as they saw
us, they passed round to the back of the church; and I doubted not
they were going to enter by the side-aisle door and witness the
ceremony.  By Mr. Rochester they were not observed; he was earnestly
looking at my face from which the blood had, I daresay, momentarily
fled:  for I felt my forehead dewy, and my cheeks and lips cold.
When I rallied, which I soon did, he walked gently with me up the
path to the porch.

We entered the quiet and humble temple; the priest waited in his
white surplice at the lowly altar, the clerk beside him.  All was
still:  two shadows only moved in a remote corner.  My conjecture
had been correct:  the strangers had slipped in before us, and they
now stood by the vault of the Rochesters, their backs towards us,
viewing through the rails the old time-stained marble tomb, where a
kneeling angel guarded the remains of Damer de Rochester, slain at
Marston Moor in the time of the civil wars, and of Elizabeth, his
wife.

Our place was taken at the communion rails.  Hearing a cautious step
behind me, I glanced over my shoulder:  one of the strangers--a
gentleman, evidently--was advancing up the chancel.  The service
began.  The explanation of the intent of matrimony was gone through;
and then the clergyman came a step further forward, and, bending
slightly towards Mr. Rochester, went on.

"I require and charge you both (as ye will answer at the dreadful
day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed),
that if either of you know any impediment why ye may not lawfully be
joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it; for be ye well
assured that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God's
Word doth allow, are not joined together by God, neither is their
matrimony lawful."

He paused, as the custom is.  When is the pause after that sentence
ever broken by reply?  Not, perhaps, once in a hundred years.  And
the clergyman, who had not lifted his eyes from his book, and had
held his breath but for a moment, was proceeding:  his hand was
already stretched towards Mr. Rochester, as his lips unclosed to
ask, "Wilt thou have this woman for thy wedded wife?"--when a
distinct and near voice said -

"The marriage cannot go on:  I declare the existence of an
impediment."

The clergyman looked up at the speaker and stood mute; the clerk did
the same; Mr. Rochester moved slightly, as if an earthquake had
rolled under his feet:  taking a firmer footing, and not turning his
head or eyes, he said, "Proceed."

Profound silence fell when he had uttered that word, with deep but
low intonation.  Presently Mr. Wood said -

"I cannot proceed without some investigation into what has been
asserted, and evidence of its truth or falsehood."

"The ceremony is quite broken off," subjoined the voice behind us.
"I am in a condition to prove my allegation:  an insuperable
impediment to this marriage exists."

Mr. Rochester heard, but heeded not:  he stood stubborn and rigid,
making no movement but to possess himself of my hand.  What a hot
and strong grasp he had! and how like quarried marble was his pale,
firm, massive front at this moment!  How his eye shone, still
watchful, and yet wild beneath!

Mr. Wood seemed at a loss.  "What is the nature of the impediment?"
he asked.  "Perhaps it may be got over--explained away?"

"Hardly," was the answer.  "I have called it insuperable, and I
speak advisedly."

The speaker came forward and leaned on the rails.  He continued,
uttering each word distinctly, calmly, steadily, but not loudly -

"It simply consists in the existence of a previous marriage.  Mr.
Rochester has a wife now living."

My nerves vibrated to those low-spoken words as they had never
vibrated to thunder--my blood felt their subtle violence as it had
never felt frost or fire; but I was collected, and in no danger of
swooning.  I looked at Mr. Rochester:  I made him look at me.  His
whole face was colourless rock:  his eye was both spark and flint.
He disavowed nothing:  he seemed as if he would defy all things.
Without speaking, without smiling, without seeming to recognise in
me a human being, he only twined my waist with his arm and riveted
me to his side.

"Who are you?" he asked of the intruder.

"My name is Briggs, a solicitor of--Street, London."

"And you would thrust on me a wife?"

"I would remind you of your lady's existence, sir, which the law
recognises, if you do not."

"Favour me with an account of her--with her name, her parentage, her
place of abode."

"Certainly."  Mr. Briggs calmly took a paper from his pocket, and
read out in a sort of official, nasal voice:-

"'I affirm and can prove that on the 20th of October A.D.--(a date
of fifteen years back), Edward Fairfax Rochester, of Thornfield
Hall, in the county of -, and of Ferndean Manor, in -shire, England,
was married to my sister, Bertha Antoinetta Mason, daughter of Jonas
Mason, merchant, and of Antoinetta his wife, a Creole, at--church,
Spanish Town, Jamaica.  The record of the marriage will be found in
the register of that church--a copy of it is now in my possession.
Signed, Richard Mason.'"

"That--if a genuine document--may prove I have been married, but it
does not prove that the woman mentioned therein as my wife is still
living."

"She was living three months ago," returned the lawyer.

"How do you know?"

"I have a witness to the fact, whose testimony even you, sir, will
scarcely controvert."

"Produce him--or go to hell."

"I will produce him first--he is on the spot.  Mr. Mason, have the
goodness to step forward."

Mr. Rochester, on hearing the name, set his teeth; he experienced,
too, a sort of strong convulsive quiver; near to him as I was, I
felt the spasmodic movement of fury or despair run through his
frame.  The second stranger, who had hitherto lingered in the
background, now drew near; a pale face looked over the solicitor's
shoulder--yes, it was Mason himself.  Mr. Rochester turned and
glared at him.  His eye, as I have often said, was a black eye:  it
had now a tawny, nay, a bloody light in its gloom; and his face
flushed--olive cheek and hueless forehead received a glow as from
spreading, ascending heart-fire:  and he stirred, lifted his strong
arm--he could have struck Mason, dashed him on the church-floor,
shocked by ruthless blow the breath from his body--but Mason shrank
away, and cried faintly, "Good God!"  Contempt fell cool on Mr.
Rochester--his passion died as if a blight had shrivelled it up:  he
only asked--"What have YOU to say?"

An inaudible reply escaped Mason's white lips.

"The devil is in it if you cannot answer distinctly.  I again
demand, what have you to say?"

"Sir--sir," interrupted the clergyman, "do not forget you are in a
sacred place."  Then addressing Mason, he inquired gently, "Are you
aware, sir, whether or not this gentleman's wife is still living?"

"Courage," urged the lawyer,--"speak out."

"She is now living at Thornfield Hall," said Mason, in more
articulate tones:  "I saw her there last April.  I am her brother."

"At Thornfield Hall!" ejaculated the clergyman.  "Impossible!  I am
an old resident in this neighbourhood, sir, and I never heard of a
Mrs. Rochester at Thornfield Hall."

I saw a grim smile contort Mr. Rochester's lips, and he muttered -

"No, by God!  I took care that none should hear of it--or of her
under that name."  He mused--for ten minutes he held counsel with
himself:  he formed his resolve, and announced it -

"Enough! all shall bolt out at once, like the bullet from the
barrel.  Wood, close your book and take off your surplice; John
Green (to the clerk), leave the church:  there will be no wedding
to-day."  The man obeyed.

Mr. Rochester continued, hardily and recklessly:  "Bigamy is an ugly
word!--I meant, however, to be a bigamist; but fate has out-
manoeuvred me, or Providence has checked me,--perhaps the last.  I
am little better than a devil at this moment; and, as my pastor
there would tell me, deserve no doubt the sternest judgments of God,
even to the quenchless fire and deathless worm.  Gentlemen, my plan
is broken up:- what this lawyer and his client say is true:  I have
been married, and the woman to whom I was married lives!  You say
you never heard of a Mrs. Rochester at the house up yonder, Wood;
but I daresay you have many a time inclined your ear to gossip about
the mysterious lunatic kept there under watch and ward.  Some have
whispered to you that she is my bastard half-sister:  some, my cast-
off mistress.  I now inform you that she is my wife, whom I married
fifteen years ago,--Bertha Mason by name; sister of this resolute
personage, who is now, with his quivering limbs and white cheeks,
showing you what a stout heart men may bear.  Cheer up, Dick!--never
fear me!--I'd almost as soon strike a woman as you.  Bertha Mason is
mad; and she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three
generations?  Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a
drunkard!--as I found out after I had wed the daughter:  for they
were silent on family secrets before.  Bertha, like a dutiful child,
copied her parent in both points.  I had a charming partner--pure,
wise, modest:  you can fancy I was a happy man.  I went through rich
scenes!  Oh! my experience has been heavenly, if you only knew it!
But I owe you no further explanation.  Briggs, Wood, Mason, I invite
you all to come up to the house and visit Mrs. Poole's patient, and
MY WIFE!  You shall see what sort of a being I was cheated into
espousing, and judge whether or not I had a right to break the
compact, and seek sympathy with something at least human.  This
girl," he continued, looking at me, "knew no more than you, Wood, of
the disgusting secret:  she thought all was fair and legal and never
dreamt she was going to be entrapped into a feigned union with a
defrauded wretch, already bound to a bad, mad, and embruted partner!
Come all of you--follow!"

Still holding me fast, he left the church:  the three gentlemen came
after.  At the front door of the hall we found the carriage.

"Take it back to the coach-house, John," said Mr. Rochester coolly;
"it will not be wanted to-day."

At our entrance, Mrs. Fairfax, Adele, Sophie, Leah, advanced to meet
and greet us.

"To the right-about--every soul!" cried the master; "away with your
congratulations!  Who wants them?  Not I!--they are fifteen years
too late!"

He passed on and ascended the stairs, still holding my hand, and
still beckoning the gentlemen to follow him, which they did.  We
mounted the first staircase, passed up the gallery, proceeded to the
third storey:  the low, black door, opened by Mr. Rochester's
master-key, admitted us to the tapestried room, with its great bed
and its pictorial cabinet.

"You know this place, Mason," said our guide; "she bit and stabbed
you here."

He lifted the hangings from the wall, uncovering the second door:
this, too, he opened.  In a room without a window, there burnt a
fire guarded by a high and strong fender, and a lamp suspended from
the ceiling by a chain.  Grace Poole bent over the fire, apparently
cooking something in a saucepan.  In the deep shade, at the farther
end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards.  What it was,
whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell:
it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like
some strange wild animal:  but it was covered with clothing, and a
quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and
face.

"Good-morrow, Mrs. Poole!" said Mr. Rochester.  "How are you? and
how is your charge to-day?"

"We're tolerable, sir, I thank you," replied Grace, lifting the
boiling mess carefully on to the hob:  "rather snappish, but not
'rageous."

A fierce cry seemed to give the lie to her favourable report:  the
clothed hyena rose up, and stood tall on its hind-feet.

"Ah! sir, she sees you!" exclaimed Grace:  "you'd better not stay."

"Only a few moments, Grace:  you must allow me a few moments."

"Take care then, sir!--for God's sake, take care!"

The maniac bellowed:  she parted her shaggy locks from her visage,
and gazed wildly at her visitors.  I recognised well that purple
face,--those bloated features.  Mrs. Poole advanced.

"Keep out of the way," said Mr. Rochester, thrusting her aside:
"she has no knife now, I suppose, and I'm on my guard."

"One never knows what she has, sir:  she is so cunning:  it is not
in mortal discretion to fathom her craft."

"We had better leave her," whispered Mason.

"Go to the devil!" was his brother-in-law's recommendation.

"'Ware!" cried Grace.  The three gentlemen retreated simultaneously.
Mr. Rochester flung me behind him:  the lunatic sprang and grappled
his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his cheek:  they
struggled.  She was a big woman, in stature almost equalling her
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 conduct!

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."


Charlotte Bronte