Chapter 16 – One obstacle after another
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.
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.