Chapter 15 – An organized programme of everyday life
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.