After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Sixteen

Chapter 16 – One obstacle after another

Dreaming2

 

 

Charles Mason crossed the distance between him and Edward in three longs strides. In one smooth gesture, he hit my baffled husband in the face, so hard that the latter staggered backwards and ended on the floor with a muffled cry of pain. Something snapped in me. I drew myself up to my unfortunately inadequate height and slapped Mason’s jaw as hard as I could.

“Mr. Mason!” I exclaimed angrily. “Will you kindly refrain from hitting my husband? He has barely recovered from the injuries you inflicted on him during our last encounter. Besides, if you would care to use your brain before acting instead of your temperament, you would know Edward once loved your sister dearly. He has never, do you hear me, never ill-treated Bertha during all those long years that she stayed at Thornfield Hall. On the contrary, he has done ample more than his duty towards her, caring for her with deep concern for her safety and well-being. Bertha jumped to her death, that night, Mr. Mason; it is as simple as that. Edward tried to safe her, to lure her back inside, but she was beyond his reach, both physically and mentally. It was Fate, Mr. Mason. You will leave Bertha’s ghost to rest from now on or you will have to answer to me.”

By now I had run out of breath and turned towards my husband who was still lying sprawled upon the carpet. I put out my hand, which he took, a strange look in his eyes. When he was on his feet again, Edward held my hand in his and, to my surprise, kissed it in a deferential way.

“My God, Jane! What a speech!” he whispered, looking deeply into my eyes. “What a beautiful sight you are … oh, my darling!”

“A sight? Does that mean that …”

In a playful way, he tweaked my nose.  “Yes, my little witch, I can see you. It must be Mason’s fisticuff’s blow. Well, my Jane, you look even prettier than I remember!”

Suddenly, I was in the circle of his arms, and he kissed me, right then and there, so ardently that I felt a wave of sweet burning desire running through me. My knees buckled under the intensity of it, and I returned his kiss with all the strength I could muster. I do not know how long we went on with this somewhat improper behaviour but eventually, an unfamiliar noise brought us back to our senses.

Charles Mason’s hands were covering his face and he was weeping in a disconsolate way. Edward and I had the same reaction. We took Mason by the arm and made him sit down. I called for a fresh pot of tea, but Edward poured him a stiff brandy, which he gratefully accepted. A few awkward moments passed in which I filled a couple of cups of tea; Edward and I waited patiently until Mason had regained his composure.

Eshton, who had witnessed the whole scene, was as white as a sheet but refrained from giving a comment. He swiftly excused himself and left us.

“Look here, Charles …”, Edward said gently, “let’s say no more about this whole wretched business. Let’s be friends again, like we used to be in the past.”

He offered his hand to Mason who took it. The two former brothers-in-law embraced each other and laughed, both now with tears in their eyes. I turned away, wishing to hide my own.

From that day on, Charles Mason stayed with us as a friend. Edwina Blackthorn took him under her wing, and the two of them passed long hours of walking in the gardens during the day and playing chess at night.

 

A few days of relative peace and quiet passed in which I had no greater challenges than to keep myself busy with my household tasks; a fact for which I was thankful. The events of the first two months of our marriage had certainly been tiresome, to say the least. They were, of course, also the most happy ones in my entire life.

Then, one day, I was met by Edwina when I came back from the garden where I had been cutting daffodils for the dinner table.

“Mrs. Rochester, I am very worried. It has been so long since Timothy went to see his mother, and he should be back by now. I sincerely hope he has not met with an accident. I know where his mother’s cottage is and I was hoping I could take the curricle and drive there?”

She was right, it must have been five days since Beaver left. We went to look for Edward who was working through the estate books in his library with his steward.

“Yes, this is odd, to say the least,” Edward mused, as soon as we had explained it all to him. “You know what, Jane, we will all go to Mrs. Beaver’s cottage in the carriage. That way you can take food and linen with you as a present to her.”

So we did, me and Edwina in the carriage, with Norton as our coachman and Edward riding his horse alongside us. It was not so very far, as Edwina told us. Once we passed Ingram Park, it was but fifteen miles to the east of it. Mrs. Beaver’s cottage lay at the outskirts of Ingram Home Wood, in a hollow providing a nice shelter from the winds blowing off the moors. There was no access from the main road, not even a trace of some path or other, so we were forced to leave the carriage there. Edward, Edwina and me went on foot through the meadow towards the low house with its thatched roof.

When we came within a distance of some 100 meters of the cottage, Edward suddenly held out his arm and stopped us.

“Jane …”

He seemed to listen, and so did I but there was nothing to hear. The silence in this secluded spot was absolute. My husband obviously thought otherwise.

“Jane, and you too, Edwina, quickly, go back to Norton! There’s something not quite right here and I want to go see what that is. If I don’t return in ten minutes, I want you to ride back to Ferndean and raise the alarm.”

“What? Ishall do no such thing! Edwina, you go back and do as my husband says, but I’m going with you, Edward!”

“Damn it, Jane! Will you do as I ask? The lost of my eyesight has enhanced my hearing. There’s a horse hidden somewhere near that cottage. Tell me, what would a poor widow do with a horse? Now, go! I will not tolerate …”

“No, Edward! You’ve nothing to tolerate! I’m staying with you, like it or not!”

He pulled out his most dark scowl and Edwina paled, grabbed her skirts and ran back to the carriage. I did not. I returned his stare with one of my own, determined to have my own way.

I don’t know how long we stood there and if our eyes would have been pistols, we’d both been dead twice over. All of a sudden, the crack of a gunshot almost made me jump out of my skin. Then, before my horrified eyes, Edward collapsed face forward onto the grass and a dark stain began spreading beneath him.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Fifteen

Chapter 15 – An organized programme of everyday life

The Rochesters

 

 

After all this disturbance teasing our tender marriage, Edward and I firmly banished all diversion from the truly important matters concerning our life together. We had work on our hands; we needed to get started on the restoration of Thornfield Hall, Edward’s ancestral home.

The next six weeks, we were diligently working, talking to architects and craftsmen, and laying out plans for the rebuilding and refurbishment. We settled in a nice enough routine, working in pleasurable companionship by day, sweetly indulging in each other’s bodies by night.

I dedicated myself to organising my household. This proved to be a gigantic task, even with Alice’s help. We hired five new maids, two upstairs and two downstairs, and one scullery maid. It also took me the whole of three weeks of interviewing possible candidates for a gentleman’s gentleman or valet for Edward. They were all, without exception, very reluctant to be examined by a lady. I had to stand firm at times but eventually, I succeeded in hiring Thomas Devereaux who came with excellent references from the service of a duke’s younger son killed at Waterloo. The most important was that Edward approved of him.

Miss Blackthorn and Beaver stayed with us, of course. The former became good friends with our dear Adèle, now quite a young lady of fourteen going on fifteen.

Ah, yes, Adèle …

Edward wanted to send her to some institute for the education of young women in London, but that was not at all what Adèle wished.

Adèle wanted to go to Paris.

As I had too many issues demanding my attention, I could not accompany her, and she was too young to travel alone. Edward was strongly against her going, even though he knew how much she longed for it. So we were in an impasse, Adèle pouting, Edward grumbling, and me at a loss as how to  remediate this.

 

Six weeks later matters stood as follows.

Thornfield Hall had a roof and glazed windows again. The plumbing was installed so that there was water in every bedroom. There was a storage room for wood on every floor so that the maids wouldn’t have to go all the way downstairs to see to the fires. The servants’ work would surely be a great deal easier in the Hall when it was finished.

Edward had made inquiries about the whereabouts of Blanche Ingram.

She had disappeared from Ingram Park the very night of my escape from the shed. It seemed that she had taken only a few personal possessions and all her jewellery, stolen some money from her brother’s strongbox and ridden off on her spirited bay mare to destinations unknown. Lady Ingram, so Edward was told when he went to interrogate her, was indisposed and had taken to her bed. Philip Ingram, the new baronet after his father’s death the previous year, refused to speak to Edward about his sister. It appeared he was still harbouring some disgruntled feelings over Edward’s behaviour towards Blanche. To me it seemed that Blanche Ingram had been indulging herself in wishful thinking as to Edward’s involvement with her.

We did, however, racked our brains about where she might have gone to and to whom. An unmarried woman of gentle birth had only so few places where she could hide. She could take refuge with a relative, like an aunt or a married sister, or go to a boarding house of good reputation, which was only a temporary solution, because someone would sooner or later find out who she was and tell her family or a magistrate.

 

Timothy Beaver healed more slowly than expected. He developed a fever which weakened him so badly he lost over thirty pounds. After the above-mentioned six weeks he was, however, able to resume a task as a stable hand. He was a very hardworking, quiet sort of fellow. Norton, the head groom, was pleased with him. It was no luxury to have him, especially now that Keithley was injured. Keithley’s shoulder was healing well but slowly, because the bullet had damaged his collarbone. Miss Blackthorn spent a lot of time with him when he was off duty. I suspected she harboured some remorse. It had been Miss Blackthorn who shot Keithley the day I was abducted. She had received shooting lessons from Blanche’s brother while she had been staying at Ingram Park.

Soon thereafter, Beaver came to ask Edward for a favour. My husband received him in the drawing room after luncheon where we were drinking our coffee.

“Ah, Beaver!” Edward cheerfully exclaimed when the big man entered. “What can I do for you? I trust you’re back to your old self?”

“Yes, Mr. Rochester, sir, thank you, I’m well enough. But …” He stopped speaking and bowed his head, as in great embarrassment.

“Come, Mr. Beaver,” I encouraged him gently, “what is it that you want?”

My soft words seemed to ease him and he ventured, “It’s my mother, Mrs. Rochester. She’s old and she’s not well. It’s been months since I went to see her and I’m worried. I came to ask a leave of absence to visit her.”

“Of course, man!” Edward answered, “Take a horse and go and see her. Take all the time you need.”

“You will also take a basket of food with you, Mr. Beaver, as a present from us to your mother. I’ll tell Cook to prepare one. When are you planning to leave?”

 

The next day, we had a visitor. It was John Eshton who had been in London for some time, and only now had heard what had befallen Edward. He was even more upset when he listened to our story about Blanche Ingram, and how she damaged Edward’s name by bestowing Miss Edwina Blackthorn as his daughter upon him.

“My goodness, Edward!” he exclaimed, “She must have gone mad! My poor sister and you? How could that ever be possible? Adelaide was already married to Blackthorn, when I introduced her to you at a house party.”

“Exactly so!” Edward chimed in. “It was nothing but Blanche’s viciousness  with the intention of disturbing my marriage to Jane.”

At that exact moment, Miss Edwina entered the room and, on seeing her uncle, rushed forward to throw herself into his waiting arms.

“Edie, my sweet! Oh, how wonderful to see you again! Dear girl, you have no idea how sorry I am I was not here when all this happened. I thought you were safe at Ingram Park!”

“I was, Uncle!” Edwina said, “Until Mr. Rochester’s marriage, I was. It’s only since then that Blanche grew all awkward and set up her plan to ruin Mr. Rochester’s marriage. But, Uncle, you do know that Blackthorn was not my father?”

“Well,” Eshton said, “to say I knew is perhaps a little farfetched but I suspected it, although never a word has been said about it. I don’t, however, have any inkling of who was your father, dear girl. Addie never said anything, not even to our mother, with whom she was pretty close.”

A noise from the direction of the hall made us turn our heads.

“Sir, sir, you cannot …”

Alice’s alarmed voice was heard just seconds before the door was thrown open to let a man about whom we’d banned out of our minds.

“Rochester, I demand to speak with you! Immediately! It bears no delay, sir!” the agitated voice of Charles Mason barked at my stunned husband.

 

 

 

 

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Fourteen

Chapter 14 – Rochester takes the matter at hand

Proud Richester

While we hurried towards the stables Edward asked the head groom who had come to meet us, “Ah, Norton, did you tie him up like I asked?”

“Yes, sir!” the man answered, “an’ a good thing ‘t was too! He’s been trying to get away all the time since he opened his eyes!”

“Edward!” I exclaimed, “Was that necessary? The man is injured, and by my hand to boot!”

My husband laughed out loud but didn’t reply. Instead he grabbed my hand and pulled me with him inside the stables. How confident his footing had become, I noticed in astonishment. His eyesight must indeed be coming back.

We found poor Beaver in the stable shed at the back, firmly tied upon a narrow cot and frantically trying to break his bonds. Someone had put a bandage around his head, and he looked ghastly.

“Oh, Mr. Beaver! I’m so sorry!” I said gently and kneeled beside the cot. I touched his forehead with the back of my hand and found it a little feverish. Beaver seemed surprised but calmed down at my touch.

“Ma’am, I …”, he stammered but I silenced him at once.

“Shhh, Mr. Beaver, keep still. You’re hurt and it was my doing and …”

“Jane!”

Edward’s most thundering voice startled us both, and I turned to my husband, only to find him scowling at me in his most impressing manner. I was, of course, not impressed because nothing Edward did, could ever frighten me.

“Yes?” I asked in a calm voice.

His green-grey eyes were definitively looking into mine, and he said briskly, “You seem to have forgotten that this man is Blanche Ingram’s henchman who has kidnapped, imprisoned and harmed you! It is my intention to interrogate him thoroughly and retrieve all information about the wretched wench, so step aside and let me!”

I rose to my feet to give way to my husband, when an anguished cry from the stable entrance made us turn our heads. Miss Edwina Blackthorn flew to Beaver’s cot, took his hand in hers and cried, “Oh, dear Timothy, I’m so sorry it has come to this! We were both submitted to Miss Ingram’s wickedness, and neither of us had a choice!”

She turned a tear-streaked face towards Edward.

“Mr. Rochester, please? I know you have a kind heart. I beg you to take care of poor Timothy who has been a servant in my family as was his mother before him. He has no fault in this, I assure you! We were both victims of Miss Ingram’s doings.”

Edward studied her pensively before he replied evenly, “First, Miss Blackthorn, you will explain to me how you came to think that I was your father.”

She nodded and rose.

“Yes, sir, I will but I cannot leave Timothy’s bedside when he is injured so.”

“I’ve sent for the physician and I give you my word he will be taken care of. So you may leave him in my groom’s capable hands and follow me and Mrs. Rochester back to the house.”

We retired in the parlour where a tray of tea was being served by our capable Alice. I poured us all a cup of the genial beverage, and we sat down in the chairs before the fireplace.

Edwina Blackthorn began her story.

“My mother, who was sister to Mr. Eshton of the estate adjacent to Blackthorn Manor, married Thomas Blackthorn at the age of seventeen. She was, by then, four months pregnant with me but Mr. Blackthorn was not the father. On several occasions have I asked my mother who my father was, but she has always denied me the knowledge of it. Thomas Blackthorn was a cruel and violent man, and my mother has suffered for many years under his harsh treatment before she was finally forced to flee with me when … when he …”

She was weeping now, her slim shoulders shaking with the effort. Edward looked at me with genuine distress in his eyes, so I took the girl in my arms.

“Dear Edwina,” I whispered, “do not upset yourself so. Did he try to seduce you, defile you?”

“Yes,” she choked, “my mother and I ran away after he had beaten her so harshly that she had bleeding wounds in her face and on her body. She came to my defence when, one night, Blackthorn tried to rape me. We fled to the only place where he would not come looking for us, Ingram Park. Lady Ingram and my grandmother Eshton were childhood friends, and she welcomed us most heartily. My mother died a few days later of internal bleedings.  I stayed as Blanche’s companion ever since.”

“And Timothy?” I inquired gently, “How does he come in all this?”

“His mother came into my grandmother’s service when she was pregnant of Timothy. She was an orphan who had been raped. Grandmother took her on as a scullery maid and later as a nursery maid. Timothy was working in my uncle Eshton’s stables, when my mother married Blackthorn. He followed her to Blackthorn Manor to find work there. His own mother is living in a cottage that was sold to the Ingram estate a couple of years ago. Blanche threatened to turn her out if Timothy did not obey her. She ordered Mrs. Rochester to be abducted and imprisoned.”

She paused to draw breath and Edward asked, “But why? Why would Blanche do such a thing?”

“Mr. Rochester, she was furious when you married! She said you had betrayed her, you had promised her marriage and then cast her aside to marry Mrs. Rochester.”

Edward’s voice was raw with rage when he uttered, “But that is not true! I have never offered for her!”

“Of course not, my love!” I hastened to say, “How could you when you were already …”

Aghast by my own stupid mistake, I shut my mouth! How could I be so rude as to refer to Bertha!

Edwina went on, unaware of my discomfort.

“She conceived this plan of letting you think you were my father. I refused at first, but she threatened to turn me onto the streets and to drive poor Timothy’s mother out of her cottage if we didn’t do her bidding. She said she has irrevocable proof of you being my father.”

Edward raked a hand through his dark curls in a desperate gesture.

“But … that is impossible! I have never, ever touched Adelaide Eshton in my life! Besides, I have been out of the country for years, and at the time of your conception I was living in the West Indies. I was already married to Bertha!”

“Shhh, I know, my love, calm yourself!” I soothed him.

He rose so abruptly that both me and Edwina were startled by the vehemence of it.

“Well, that settles it! I want Miss Blanche Ingram searched for and found, for she has some serious explaining to do!”

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Thirteen

Chapter 13 – The reckoning

Angry Rochester

I was, of course, not frightened at all!

Edward, for all his brooding and hot temper, would never frighten me; he was all bark and no bite. Even so, standing tall and ramrod straight, his unseeing grey-green eyes blazing with … something which was not fury.  He was an impressing sight, and just by looking at him my heart rose sky-high!

“Well?” he asked, in a low voice, which made my pulse race. I did not reply but started undressing as silently as I could. In a couple of moments, I was only wearing my shoes and stockings.

“Well? Are you going to give me an answer, Mrs. Rochester?”

His voice was really threatening now, but when I saw the beginning of a smile dancing at the corner of his mouth, I decided to play along with the game he had in mind.

“Edward …”, I said plaintively, “I am so very exhausted. I will give you an answer but not now. I really need to get some rest. Please?”

His face was suddenly full of concern.

“Jane, are you hurt? I’m so sorry, darling, I …”

“No, Edward, please, leave me be and let’s go to bed. It’s the middle of the night.”

I carefully opened the bed and sat down. Edward began to take of his coat and dropped it in the middle of the room. My pulse started beating erratically. Then his shirt followed, and I had to smother a gasp of anticipation.

When he took a few steps towards the bed, I drawled in a tired voice, “Will you not help me with my stockings and shoes, Edward? My whole body is aching with fatigue …”

“Christ, Jane, sweetheart, why did you not say so? Why did you let me be so ghastly?”

He reached the bed, and I stuck out my feet, which he took into his hands, easing off my boots. His hands glided upwards along my stockings now, sending heat waves up to the centre of my core.

“Jane, … where are your skirts?” he smiled, finally understanding. I had already loosened his breeches, and my hands were roaming over his chest and stomach, pushing down his clothes until he was as bare as I was.

With a groan from deep within his chest, he gathered me up and lifted me away from the bed. Suddenly my back was pinned against the wall, and he pushed into me, hard and frantically. After one heartbeat, I was over the edge, my body throbbing with immense pleasure. I clung to my husband’s body, anxious to widen the distance between us. I felt the muscles of his back and legs straining up like steel cords when he cried out his release.

For the length of an eternity, we remained there against the wall, clinging to each other like two lost souls. Then, with his head buried between my breasts, Edward’s low voice reached my ears.

“Jane, you wicked witch, if you ever do that disappearing act on me again, I swear to God I will … smother you with pleasure so that you might never recover!”

I looked down and chuckled.

“Well, my Lord and Master, coming from a man who is wearing nothing but his boots and whose breeches are down on them, this does not impress me very much!”

The next moment, the Master threw me onto our bed, discarded the said garments in the blink of an eye, and was again upon me in no time.

 

When I woke up the next morning, Edward was already wide awake.

I kissed him on the mouth in an impulse and he flushed.

“What is it, my love? Am I taking you by surprise?” I asked in a playful tone.

“No, sweet Jane of mine, that is not it. I feel suddenly ashamed because I have not told you of … Jane, do not be cross with me but … something wonderful has happened to me. My eyesight is improving and at this moment, I can actually see you, not sharply, but not as vaguely as before.”

It was a lot to take in, and I remained silent for a while.

“So, Edward, last night, you deceived me in letting me think you didn’t know I took my garments off?”

“I need more than one single lamp to see, my little witch, I need daylight. No, I didn’t know. The surprise was so intense that I could barely refrain myself long enough from … well, you know, don’t you?”

“No, Edward, I do not know what you mean, so please oblige me and explain?”

It was impossible not to laugh when I saw he believed me for just a tiny moment.

“You … you wicked woman! Come here!”

 

After our morning ablutions and a very late breakfast, Edward and I retired to the parlour with a large pot of coffee. We needed to talk about many things.

“So, my Jane, tell me why you found it important to go careering around the countryside without me knowing?”

“Oh no, Edward Rochester, you first! What can you tell me about Miss Edwina Blackthorn?”

“Now that was embarrassing! I had to ask the venerable Fairfax if she would read my letters. I don’t know who of us was most flushed but I don’t think it was me because Mrs. F. was gasping in horror when she made the same conclusion you did, Jane.”

Trust Edward to make a foolishness out of something so serious!

He looked deeply into my eyes. Yes, he was truly looking, something he had not done for a long time!

“Jane, upon my honour, I have never had sexual intercourse with Eshton’s sister for the very simple reason that she was already well and truly married before I was introduced to her. If she gave birth to a child that was conceived before her marriage to Blackthorn, it had nothing to do with me.”

I wanted so very much to believe him.  My heart believed him unconditionally but my rational and naturally suspicious mind told me otherwise. It was long before I knew him so it didn’t affect me much but still … I felt uncomfortable about it.

“Are you going to see the solicitors?”, I asked him.

“Yes, that is my intention. There is more to it than meets the eye, Jane. This Blackthorn girl, whom, by the way, I’ve never met before, seems a decent enough person. Furthermore, there is Blanche’s role in all this. Blanche has disappeared from Ingram Park, did you know? Lady Ingram is beside herself with worry, or so the servant, who brought me the message, told me.”

“You will have to make a new appointment, Edward, you were supposed to meet them at eleven this morning.”

“No, my sweetling, Edward Rochester just barges in when he pleases and no one, not even a distinguished solicitor, is going to make objections to that!”

A knock on the door drew our attention away from Miss Blackthorn for the moment and I summoned the knocker in. It was Johnson.

“Mr . Rochester, sir, Mrs. Rochester, ma’am, the stable master says that Beaver has regained consciousness, and now would be a good time if you want to interrogate him, sir.”