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Chapter 36


CHAPTER XXXVI


The daylight came.  I rose at dawn.  I busied myself for an hour or
two with arranging my things in my chamber, drawers, and wardrobe,
in the order wherein I should wish to leave them during a brief
absence.  Meantime, I heard St. John quit his room.  He stopped at
my door:  I feared he would knock--no, but a slip of paper was
passed under the door.  I took it up.  It bore these words -

"You left me too suddenly last night.  Had you stayed but a little
longer, you would have laid your hand on the Christian's cross and
the angel's crown.  I shall expect your clear decision when I return
this day fortnight.  Meantime, watch and pray that you enter not
into temptation:  the spirit, I trust, is willing, but the flesh, I
see, is weak.  I shall pray for you hourly.--Yours, ST. JOHN."

"My spirit," I answered mentally, "is willing to do what is right;
and my flesh, I hope, is strong enough to accomplish the will of
Heaven, when once that will is distinctly known to me.  At any rate,
it shall be strong enough to search--inquire--to grope an outlet
from this cloud of doubt, and find the open day of certainty."

It was the first of June; yet the morning was overcast and chilly:
rain beat fast on my casement.  I heard the front-door open, and St.
John pass out.  Looking through the window, I saw him traverse the
garden.  He took the way over the misty moors in the direction of
Whitcross--there he would meet the coach.

"In a few more hours I shall succeed you in that track, cousin,"
thought I:  "I too have a coach to meet at Whitcross.  I too have
some to see and ask after in England, before I depart for ever."

It wanted yet two hours of breakfast-time.  I filled the interval in
walking softly about my room, and pondering the visitation which had
given my plans their present bent.  I recalled that inward sensation
I had experienced:  for I could recall it, with all its unspeakable
strangeness.  I recalled the voice I had heard; again I questioned
whence it came, as vainly as before:  it seemed in ME--not in the
external world.  I asked was it a mere nervous impression--a
delusion?  I could not conceive or believe:  it was more like an
inspiration.  The wondrous shock of feeling had come like the
earthquake which shook the foundations of Paul and Silas's prison;
it had opened the doors of the soul's cell and loosed its bands--it
had wakened it out of its sleep, whence it sprang trembling,
listening, aghast; then vibrated thrice a cry on my startled ear,
and in my quaking heart and through my spirit, which neither feared
nor shook, but exulted as if in joy over the success of one effort
it had been privileged to make, independent of the cumbrous body.

"Ere many days," I said, as I terminated my musings, "I will know
something of him whose voice seemed last night to summon me.
Letters have proved of no avail--personal inquiry shall replace
them."

At breakfast I announced to Diana and Mary that I was going a
journey, and should be absent at least four days.

"Alone, Jane?" they asked.

"Yes; it was to see or hear news of a friend about whom I had for
some time been uneasy."

They might have said, as I have no doubt they thought, that they had
believed me to be without any friends save them:  for, indeed, I had
often said so; but, with their true natural delicacy, they abstained
from comment, except that Diana asked me if I was sure I was well
enough to travel.  I looked very pale, she observed.  I replied,
that nothing ailed me save anxiety of mind, which I hoped soon to
alleviate.

It was easy to make my further arrangements; for I was troubled with
no inquiries--no surmises.  Having once explained to them that I
could not now be explicit about my plans, they kindly and wisely
acquiesced in the silence with which I pursued them, according to me
the privilege of free action I should under similar circumstances
have accorded them.

I left Moor House at three o'clock p.m., and soon after four I stood
at the foot of the sign-post of Whitcross, waiting the arrival of
the coach which was to take me to distant Thornfield.  Amidst the
silence of those solitary roads and desert hills, I heard it
approach from a great distance.  It was the same vehicle whence, a
year ago, I had alighted one summer evening on this very spot--how
desolate, and hopeless, and objectless!  It stopped as I beckoned.
I entered--not now obliged to part with my whole fortune as the
price of its accommodation.  Once more on the road to Thornfield, I
felt like the messenger-pigeon flying home.

It was a journey of six-and-thirty hours.  I had set out from
Whitcross on a Tuesday afternoon, and early on the succeeding
Thursday morning the coach stopped to water the horses at a wayside
inn, situated in the midst of scenery whose green hedges and large
fields and low pastoral hills (how mild of feature and verdant of
hue compared with the stern North-Midland moors of Morton!) met my
eye like the lineaments of a once familiar face.  Yes, I knew the
character of this landscape:  I was sure we were near my bourne.

"How far is Thornfield Hall from here?" I asked of the ostler.

"Just two miles, ma'am, across the fields."

"My journey is closed," I thought to myself.  I got out of the
coach, gave a box I had into the ostler's charge, to be kept till I
called for it; paid my fare; satisfied the coachman, and was going:
the brightening day gleamed on the sign of the inn, and I read in
gilt letters, "The Rochester Arms."  My heart leapt up:  I was
already on my master's very lands.  It fell again:  the thought
struck it:-

"Your master himself may be beyond the British Channel, for aught
you know:  and then, if he is at Thornfield Hall, towards which you
hasten, who besides him is there?  His lunatic wife:  and you have
nothing to do with him:  you dare not speak to him or seek his
presence.  You have lost your labour--you had better go no farther,"
urged the monitor.  "Ask information of the people at the inn; they
can give you all you seek:  they can solve your doubts at once.  Go
up to that man, and inquire if Mr. Rochester be at home."

The suggestion was sensible, and yet I could not force myself to act
on it.  I so dreaded a reply that would crush me with despair.  To
prolong doubt was to prolong hope.  I might yet once more see the
Hall under the ray of her star.  There was the stile before me--the
very fields through which I had hurried, blind, deaf, distracted
with a revengeful fury tracking and scourging me, on the morning I
fled from Thornfield:  ere I well knew what course I had resolved to
take, I was in the midst of them.  How fast I walked!  How I ran
sometimes!  How I looked forward to catch the first view of the
well-known woods!  With what feelings I welcomed single trees I
knew, and familiar glimpses of meadow and hill between them!

At last the woods rose; the rookery clustered dark; a loud cawing
broke the morning stillness.  Strange delight inspired me:  on I
hastened.  Another field crossed--a lane threaded--and there were
the courtyard walls--the back offices:  the house itself, the
rookery still hid.  "My first view of it shall be in front," I
determined, "where its bold battlements will strike the eye nobly at
once, and where I can single out my master's very window:  perhaps
he will be standing at it--he rises early:  perhaps he is now
walking in the orchard, or on the pavement in front.  Could I but
see him!--but a moment!  Surely, in that case, I should not be so
mad as to run to him?  I cannot tell--I am not certain.  And if I
did--what then?  God bless him!  What then?  Who would be hurt by my
once more tasting the life his glance can give me?  I rave:  perhaps
at this moment he is watching the sun rise over the Pyrenees, or on
the tideless sea of the south."

I had coasted along the lower wall of the orchard--turned its angle:
there was a gate just there, opening into the meadow, between two
stone pillars crowned by stone balls.  From behind one pillar I
could peep round quietly at the full front of the mansion.  I
advanced my head with precaution, desirous to ascertain if any
bedroom window-blinds were yet drawn up:  battlements, windows, long
front--all from this sheltered station were at my command.

The crows sailing overhead perhaps watched me while I took this
survey.  I wonder what they thought.  They must have considered I
was very careful and timid at first, and that gradually I grew very
bold and reckless.  A peep, and then a long stare; and then a
departure from my niche and a straying out into the meadow; and a
sudden stop full in front of the great mansion, and a protracted,
hardy gaze towards it.  "What affectation of diffidence was this at
first?" they might have demanded; "what stupid regardlessness now?"

Hear an illustration, reader.

A lover finds his mistress asleep on a mossy bank; he wishes to
catch a glimpse of her fair face without waking her.  He steals
softly over the grass, careful to make no sound; he pauses--fancying
she has stirred:  he withdraws:  not for worlds would he be seen.
All is still:  he again advances:  he bends above her; a light veil
rests on her features:  he lifts it, bends lower; now his eyes
anticipate the vision of beauty--warm, and blooming, and lovely, in
rest.  How hurried was their first glance!  But how they fix!  How
he starts!  How he suddenly and vehemently clasps in both arms the
form he dared not, a moment since, touch with his finger!  How he
calls aloud a name, and drops his burden, and gazes on it wildly!
He thus grasps and cries, and gazes, because he no longer fears to
waken by any sound he can utter--by any movement he can make.  He
thought his love slept sweetly:  he finds she is stone dead.

I looked with timorous joy towards a stately house:  I saw a
blackened ruin.

No need to cower behind a gate-post, indeed!--to peep up at chamber
lattices, fearing life was astir behind them!  No need to listen for
doors opening--to fancy steps on the pavement or the gravel-walk!
The lawn, the grounds were trodden and waste:  the portal yawned
void.  The front was, as I had once seen it in a dream, but a well-
like wall, very high and very fragile-looking, perforated with
paneless windows:  no roof, no battlements, no chimneys--all had
crashed in.

And there was the silence of death about it:  the solitude of a
lonesome wild.  No wonder that letters addressed to people here had
never received an answer:  as well despatch epistles to a vault in a
church aisle.  The grim blackness of the stones told by what fate
the Hall had fallen--by conflagration:  but how kindled?  What story
belonged to this disaster?  What loss, besides mortar and marble and
wood-work had followed upon it?  Had life been wrecked as well as
property?  If so, whose?  Dreadful question:  there was no one here
to answer it--not even dumb sign, mute token.

In wandering round the shattered walls and through the devastated
interior, I gathered evidence that the calamity was not of late
occurrence.  Winter snows, I thought, had drifted through that void
arch, winter rains beaten in at those hollow casements; for, amidst
the drenched piles of rubbish, spring had cherished vegetation:
grass and weed grew here and there between the stones and fallen
rafters.  And oh! where meantime was the hapless owner of this
wreck?  In what land?  Under what auspices?  My eye involuntarily
wandered to the grey church tower near the gates, and I asked, "Is
he with Damer de Rochester, sharing the shelter of his narrow marble
house?"

Some answer must be had to these questions.  I could find it nowhere
but at the inn, and thither, ere long, I returned.  The host himself
brought my breakfast into the parlour.  I requested him to shut the
door and sit down:  I had some questions to ask him.  But when he
complied, I scarcely knew how to begin; such horror had I of the
possible answers.  And yet the spectacle of desolation I had just
left prepared me in a measure for a tale of misery.  The host was a
respectable-looking, middle-aged man.

"You know Thornfield Hall, of course?" I managed to say at last.

"Yes, ma'am; I lived there once."

"Did you?"  Not in my time, I thought:  you are a stranger to me.

"I was the late Mr. Rochester's butler," he added.

The late!  I seem to have received, with full force, the blow I had
been trying to evade.

"The late!" gasped.  "Is he dead?"

"I mean the present gentleman, Mr. Edward's father," he explained.
I breathed again:  my blood resumed its flow.  Fully assured by
these words that Mr. Edward--MY Mr. Rochester (God bless him,
wherever he was!)--was at least alive:  was, in short, "the present
gentleman."  Gladdening words!  It seemed I could hear all that was
to come--whatever the disclosures might be--with comparative
tranquillity.  Since he was not in the grave, I could bear, I
thought, to learn that he was at the Antipodes.

"Is Mr. Rochester living at Thornfield Hall now?" I asked, knowing,
of course, what the answer would be, but yet desirous of deferring
the direct question as to where he really was.

"No, ma'am--oh, no!  No one is living there.  I suppose you are a
stranger in these parts, or you would have heard what happened last
autumn,--Thornfield Hall is quite a ruin:  it was burnt down just
about harvest-time.  A dreadful calamity! such an immense quantity
of valuable property destroyed:  hardly any of the furniture could
be saved.  The fire broke out at dead of night, and before the
engines arrived from Millcote, the building was one mass of flame.
It was a terrible spectacle:  I witnessed it myself."

"At dead of night!" I muttered.  Yes, that was ever the hour of
fatality at Thornfield.  "Was it known how it originated?" I
demanded.

"They guessed, ma'am:  they guessed.  Indeed, I should say it was
ascertained beyond a doubt.  You are not perhaps aware," he
continued, edging his chair a little nearer the table, and speaking
low, "that there was a lady--a--a lunatic, kept in the house?"

"I have heard something of it."

"She was kept in very close confinement, ma'am:  people even for
some years was not absolutely certain of her existence.  No one saw
her:  they only knew by rumour that such a person was at the Hall;
and who or what she was it was difficult to conjecture.  They said
Mr. Edward had brought her from abroad, and some believed she had
been his mistress.  But a queer thing happened a year since--a very
queer thing."

I feared now to hear my own story.  I endeavoured to recall him to
the main fact.

"And this lady?"

"This lady, ma'am," he answered, "turned out to be Mr. Rochester's
wife!  The discovery was brought about in the strangest way.  There
was a young lady, a governess at the Hall, that Mr. Rochester fell
in--"

"But the fire," I suggested.

"I'm coming to that, ma'am--that Mr. Edward fell in love with.  The
servants say they never saw anybody so much in love as he was:  he
was after her continually.  They used to watch him--servants will,
you know, ma'am--and he set store on her past everything:  for all,
nobody but him thought her so very handsome.  She was a little small
thing, they say, almost like a child.  I never saw her myself; but
I've heard Leah, the house-maid, tell of her.  Leah liked her well
enough.  Mr. Rochester was about forty, and this governess not
twenty; and you see, when gentlemen of his age fall in love with
girls, they are often like as if they were bewitched.  Well, he
would marry her."

"You shall tell me this part of the story another time," I said;
"but now I have a particular reason for wishing to hear all about
the fire.  Was it suspected that this lunatic, Mrs. Rochester, had
any hand in it?"

"You've hit it, ma'am:  it's quite certain that it was her, and
nobody but her, that set it going.  She had a woman to take care of
her called Mrs. Poole--an able woman in her line, and very
trustworthy, but for one fault--a fault common to a deal of them
nurses and matrons--she KEPT A PRIVATE BOTTLE OF GIN BY HER, and now
and then took a drop over-much.  It is excusable, for she had a hard
life of it:  but still it was dangerous; for when Mrs. Poole was
fast asleep after the gin and water, the mad lady, who was as
cunning as a witch, would take the keys out of her pocket, let
herself out of her chamber, and go roaming about the house, doing
any wild mischief that came into her head.  They say she had nearly
burnt her husband in his bed once:  but I don't know about that.
However, on this night, she set fire first to the hangings of the
room next her own, and then she got down to a lower storey, and made
her way to the chamber that had been the governess's--(she was like
as if she knew somehow how matters had gone on, and had a spite at
her)--and she kindled the bed there; but there was nobody sleeping
in it, fortunately.  The governess had run away two months before;
and for all Mr. Rochester sought her as if she had been the most
precious thing he had in the world, he never could hear a word of
her; and he grew savage--quite savage on his disappointment:  he
never was a wild man, but he got dangerous after he lost her.  He
would be alone, too.  He sent Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper, away to
her friends at a distance; but he did it handsomely, for he settled
an annuity on her for life:  and she deserved it--she was a very
good woman.  Miss Adele, a ward he had, was put to school.  He broke
off acquaintance with all the gentry, and shut himself up like a
hermit at the Hall."

"What! did he not leave England?"

"Leave England?  Bless you, no!  He would not cross the door-stones
of the house, except at night, when he walked just like a ghost
about the grounds and in the orchard as if he had lost his senses--
which it is my opinion he had; for a more spirited, bolder, keener
gentleman than he was before that midge of a governess crossed him,
you never saw, ma'am.  He was not a man given to wine, or cards, or
racing, as some are, and he was not so very handsome; but he had a
courage and a will of his own, if ever man had.  I knew him from a
boy, you see:  and for my part, I have often wished that Miss Eyre
had been sunk in the sea before she came to Thornfield Hall."

"Then Mr. Rochester was at home when the fire broke out?"

"Yes, indeed was he; and he went up to the attics when all was
burning above and below, and got the servants out of their beds and
helped them down himself, and went back to get his mad wife out of
her cell.  And then they called out to him that she was on the roof,
where she was standing, waving her arms, above the battlements, and
shouting out till they could hear her a mile off:  I saw her and
heard her with my own eyes.  She was a big woman, and had long black
hair:  we could see it streaming against the flames as she stood.  I
witnessed, and several more witnessed, Mr. Rochester ascend through
the sky-light on to the roof; we heard him call 'Bertha!'  We saw
him approach her; and then, ma'am, she yelled and gave a spring, and
the next minute she lay smashed on the pavement."

"Dead?"

"Dead!  Ay, dead as the stones on which her brains and blood were
scattered."

"Good God!"

"You may well say so, ma'am:  it was frightful!"

He shuddered.

"And afterwards?" I urged.

"Well, ma'am, afterwards the house was burnt to the ground:  there
are only some bits of walls standing now."

"Were any other lives lost?"

"No--perhaps it would have been better if there had."

"What do you mean?"

"Poor Mr. Edward!" he ejaculated, "I little thought ever to have
seen it!  Some say it was a just judgment on him for keeping his
first marriage secret, and wanting to take another wife while he had
one living:  but I pity him, for my part."

"You said he was alive?" I exclaimed.

"Yes, yes:  he is alive; but many think he had better he dead."

"Why?  How?"  My blood was again running cold.  "Where is he?" I
demanded.  "Is he in England?"

"Ay--ay--he's in England; he can't get out of England, I fancy--he's
a fixture now."

What agony was this!  And the man seemed resolved to protract it.

"He is stone-blind," he said at last.  "Yes, he is stone-blind, is
Mr. Edward."

I had dreaded worse.  I had dreaded he was mad.  I summoned strength
to ask what had caused this calamity.

"It was all his own courage, and a body may say, his kindness, in a
way, ma'am:  he wouldn't leave the house till every one else was out
before him.  As he came down the great staircase at last, after Mrs.
Rochester had flung herself from the battlements, there was a great
crash--all fell.  He was taken out from under the ruins, alive, but
sadly hurt:  a beam had fallen in such a way as to protect him
partly; but one eye was knocked out, and one hand so crushed that
Mr. Carter, the surgeon, had to amputate it directly.  The other eye
inflamed:  he lost the sight of that also.  He is now helpless,
indeed--blind and a cripple."

"Where is he?  Where does he now live?"

"At Ferndean, a manor-house on a farm he has, about thirty miles
off:  quite a desolate spot."

"Who is with him?"

"Old John and his wife:  he would have none else.  He is quite
broken down, they say."

"Have you any sort of conveyance?"

"We have a chaise, ma'am, a very handsome chaise."

"Let it be got ready instantly; and if your post-boy can drive me to
Ferndean before dark this day, I'll pay both you and him twice the
hire you usually demand."


Charlotte Bronte