Chapter 17 – Hell hath no fury
My heart stopped!
I sank onto my knees, and with shaking hands, carefully turned Edward onto his back. A large bloodstain had spread right in the middle of his chest. I put a trembling hand on his cheek; how cold it was! This could not be true, surely not? He could not be dead, could he? His eyes were shut and his face was deadly pale but surely he was not dead?
Someone grabbed me, and a sack was pulled over my head. I didn’t care, I could not think, I could not feel. Edward! Edward! I screamed his name as loudly as I could.
“Please, let me take care of him! He’s hurt, he will die if I cannot tend to his wound! Please …”
Nobody listened to me. I was lifted and thrown upon someone’s shoulder and carried away from the deadly wounded body of my husband. That was when I fainted.
“Come on, man! Wake her up! Throw some water into her face or something.”
I knew that voice. It was … no, it could not be! A splash of ice-cold water brought me to my senses and I gasped for breath. But there she was! Lady Ingram, dressed in black, a man’s breeches, skirt, coat and boots. Next to her stood her daughter, clothed in the same way as her mother and scowling at me in a most ominous manner.
“Where is my husband?” I demanded haughtily, determined not to let them get the better of me.
Lady Ingram’s eyes smouldered with loathing contempt and she said in a low, menacing voice,
“Hold your tongue, you miserable piece of filth! You do not speak before I give you permission to!. Oh, I know what sort of creature you are, governess … you are like all the others of your wretched profession. Your type of commonplace whores just creeps into a woman’s home under the pretext of teaching her children, and then you are praying upon her husband. What business was it of yours to come and take Rochester away from my beautiful Blanche? He loved her! Before you showed up, he was in love with her. But you, with your humble, subdued ways, you lured him away from my child.”
During her monologue I recovered enough to make me look about me and find out where I was. I was, of course, in the cottage. The room was low and dark with the only light coming from two very small windows. The whole place spoke of extreme poverty but also of scrupulous cleanness and caring. The earthen floor was covered with freshly cut herbs and the few pieces of furniture were scrubbed until they shone. Where was the inhabitant of this house, Beaver’s old mother? And where was Beaver?
“Oh, pray, madam governess, do not seek for help!”
Lady Ingram laughed, and the sound of it was so eerie I felt shivers running over my spine. Blanche laughed too, and it dawned on me that they must be mad, both of them.
Blanche bent over me and grabbed my hair, pulling it out of its pins. It hurt so much that tears sprang into my eyes.
“Look, you commoner, you’re quite alone here! There are three corpses and you. We had to shoot that stupid Beaver fellow because he wouldn’t finish you off, not even when we killed his old crone of a mother!”
I followed her gaze, and my blood ran cold in my veins! She was right! Next to the body of a little old lady lay Beaver’s heavy form, his eyes staring blindly towards the ceiling. And, next to him … my poor brain could not comprehend what I saw; the tall, inert figure of Edward, sprawled on his back, with the ugly, huge, red stain of blood covering his chest like a giant flower. His eyes were closed and his face was smooth, even under the scars of the burning. Edward … was dead.
I must have screamed, for my tormenters were laughing even more now. I did not care; I wanted to be next to Edward. I wriggled and struggled as hard as I could but I was firmly bound on hands and feet and could not move an inch.
“Ah! Is this not sweet? Look, Blanche, she wants to be closer to her loving husband. Well, let’s help her!”
Lady Ingram put one booted foot in the small of my back and shoved me very hard. I rolled over the floor but not close enough so she repeated the movement until I was lying on my stomach with my face against Edward’s side. The irony smell of his blood filled my nose ,and I could not keep myself from weeping. All was lost now, Edward was dead and I would follow soon.
As if she could read my mind, Lady Ingram sneered, “Yes, governess, you have it right. You are about to die, and it will be very atrocious, I promise you.”
She went to a cupboard and retrieved a can of lamp oil from it. Floating about the room like a giant black moth, she spilled the oil onto the furniture, the cupboard, the table, the few chairs and over the bodies on the floor. Soon enough I was drenched in the sharply reeking substance.
Blanche, in the meantime, had shredded a few rags and propped them into the cupboard. Her mother, again sneering her blood-chilling madwoman laughter at me, pulled a tinderbox out of her coat pocket and set the rags on fire. The flame leapt up and grew higher and higher until the wood of the cupboard caught fire and began to burn steadily.
“Farewell, miss governess. May your death be long and painful.”
They left and the door fell close behind them.