Chapter 5 – In dire straits
“Mr. Mason!” I exclaimed, shocked by the vicious tone of the words uttered by Bertha’s brother Richard.
“Ah! The faithful yet wayward governess has finally found her match. You always were his most ardent supporter, were you not, Miss Eyre? You obeyed his tiniest command and worked yourself into exhaustion covering up his wicked deeds.”
Mason came nearer to where we stood, hand in hand. Only now I took notice of Edward when his hand pressed mine like a vice. His face was ashen, his lips were grey and in his eyes I saw an expression of the fiercest horror.
“Dearest, what is it?” I urged, turning towards him. “Are you unwell? Shall I go and …”
“You, Mrs. Rochester, are not going anywhere!” rasped the angry voice of Mason, putting a stress on my name that sent shivers of fear down my spine. Before I could do anything, he grasped my wrist and tore me away from Edward who did not seem to notice. His blind gaze was staring into some terrifying void, one that only he could see. His face had the same horrified expression as before. What was wrong with him? Never had I seen him like this!
Mason’s arm came up around my neck, and the cold barrel of a firearm was pressed against my temple.
“The time has come, Rochester, for you to atone for what you have done. Ha! Is it not cruel irony that you should return to the very place of your crime, only to suffer the same fate as Bertha in just a moment of time? Here you are, triumphantly showing your new whore around where your wife came to her end when you pushed her to her death? She was unwell, and she behaved abominably, but she was my sister. She was precious to me, damnation! How relieved you must have felt when, finally, you had a chance of ridding yourself of her, poor, lost soul that she was? All your troubles over and you free to marry again, was that what you were thinking when, instead of pulling Bertha back to safety, you gave her the last shove over the edge?”
“There was nobody to see! You were not here! You cannot …”, Edward shouted, his voice giving way with despair.
In growing horror I heard this words and realised what they meant. Edward had thought himself alone at Thornfield Hall when Bertha died.
“Ah, yes! You thought yourself clever, sending the servants away, didn’t you? First you set fire to the Hall and then you dragged Bertha out of her room onto the roof and pushed her over the edge! I know, Rochester, because I saw you!”
Edward staggered back as if he received a blow. His cane fell to the ruined tiles of the hall and rolled away to disappear into a crack where the floor had caved in. Underneath the hall lay the vast cellars, as I recalled. In rising alarm I noticed that Edward was disorientated. Without his cane he was unable to feel his whereabouts. I saw him venture a few paces to the left but he stumbled when his feet encountered debris.
“Edward, stay where you are! There is a …”
I couldn’t finish my sentence because Mason suddenly wrung my arm up behind my back. A sharp shot of fierce pain raked my shoulder, and it was all I could do not to cry out.
“Jane? Jane, where are you? I … come back to me …”, Edward pleaded, trying to feel his surroundings with both arms outstretched.
“I have her, you murderer! She has my gun to her head, and if you take another step, I shall kill her!”
Edward swung round towards where Mason’s voice had come from.
“Edward, no!” I shouted, when he swiftly approached us.
I was too late in warning him! To my abhorrence Mason fired his gun, and Edward reeled under the impact. He fell backwards, the floor collapsed under him, and he disappeared into the hole. A loud crush reached my shocked ears and, as I knew the cellar bottom was at least five meters below ground level, I feared for Edward’s very life. An unknown force made me wrench myself out of Mason’s grasp. I flung myself onto my stomach and peered over the hole’s edge. Edward lay on his back, arms and legs sprawled, covered by bricks and wood. A large red stain was spreading over his buff-coloured waistcoat.
“Edward! Edward, talk to me! Please, my love, please?”
I was now frantically looking for a way to get down there. I had to help him! The thought of losing him was unbearable. My heart was pounding so painfully, deep within my chest, that it felt like being stabbed by a spear. In despair I glanced around and … to my astonishment, I was alone. Mason had gone.
Somehow that made me come to my senses again.
In the hole where my wounded husband lay, there was an kind of slope, formed by the falling of the debris. On shaking legs, I ventured to climb down on it, careful as not to twist my foot.
My breath was now working painfully in my lungs, as I began examining Edward.
The bullet had struck him in the left upper arm but it had damaged an artery, from which the blood spurted onto his chest in pulsing jets. As quickly as I could, I attempted to apply a tourniquet, made from one of my stockings and a piece of wood. To my immense relief I succeeded in diminishing the blood spurt into a trickle and I bandaged it as firmly as I could with my handkerchief and my other stocking.
“Sir … Ma’am … are you there? Sir, the hour upon which we agreed has passed and …”
The groom! Thank God!
“Mister Keithley, down here! We’re in the cellars! Come quickly! The master is hurt!”
Never had I been more relieved than when I saw the benign face of the man peering over the edge of the hole.
“Madam! What …”
“Please, Mr. Keithley, go back to Ferndean and get help. My husband is badly wounded. I will stay here, with him. Fast, Mr. Keithley!”
“Aye, Ma’am, don’t fret, I’ll be back soon!”
The following hours were a nightmare. I fussed over my unconscious Edward, making a fool of myself and not helping him in the least. The entire sequence of events seemed unreal to me, yet here my love was lying, spilling his life’s blood.
Our servants and a few of our tenants came after what seemed a very long time. Between them, they managed to get Edward out of the cellar. On the way home in our curricle I held his head on my lap. He was still unconscious and very pale, and by times, he shivered in spasms, although I had him tightly tucked in blankets. All the time, my conviction grew stronger that he might be seriously hurt.
At the house, they carried him to our bedchamber, where I washed and nursed him with the help of our doctor, Philip Woodhouse. The lines of worry on the good doctor’s face were deep.
“I do not like this deep unconsciousness, Mrs. Rochester,” he said. “Your husband has suffered a severe concussion, but he should have become awake by now. His arm wound is serious, but I managed to bind off the damaged artery, and it should heal in time. You must keep him warm and try to give him some water from time to time. It is possible that he goes into a fever, so if that happens, call for me immediately. I shall return twice each day to check on him.”
Dr. Woodhouse left, and there I was, married for one day, and my dear Edward in the clutches of death.