Chapter 8 – Sins of the father
Immediately, I knew this letter was meant to be trouble. It was extremely improper for an unmarried young woman to be writing to a married man, as propriety dictated that she should write to his wife instead. I quickly propped the letter into my skirt pocket and went looking for Alice Fairfax.
Our excellent housekeeper was overseeing the kitchen activities regarding preparing lunch, cleaning silver ware, readying fire places and tending to household linen, all these tasks performed by a small staff of five maids. It occurred to me that we would need a larger number of servants, especially when Edward was planning to restore Thornfield Hall to its former glory.
“Alice,” I said, “please, make sure that Master is always watched during his sickness. Send Leah or one of the others to sit by his bedside.”
“Yes, of course, Jane, I will attend to that instantly. Are you in need of food? I will have lunch ready in no time.”
I shook my head and thanked her, eating was now the last of my concerns. Instead I retired to the parlour and sat down at my small escritoire. There I retrieved the intriguing letter from my pocket, took one deep breath and opened it.
The content was prone to shock me to the very core.
Mr. Rochester, sir,
Please allow me to beg for your presence at the meeting my solicitors have planned, a meeting to which you will by now have been invited by the said gentlemen in an official document.
It is of the uttermost importance that the affairs of the past should be resolved in the most satisfactory way, as you will no doubt understand when you read their missive.
I am, however, prepared in meeting you previously at Miss Ingram’s family estate, Ingram Park, on Wednesday next at two pm, to make sure we can come to a mutual point of view in this matter.
It was my mother’s most fervent wish that you and I be on the best of terms, following the nature of your acquaintance with her.
Miss Edwina Blackthorn
Harbouring the most dire forebodings, I tucked the letter back in my pocket and rushed back to the hall. On the salver I found the said missive of Mss Wakefield, Mortimer and Shaw, solicitors in Newcastle. Not bothering to return to the parlour I ripped it open and devoured its content with eager eyes.
In a neat clerk’s handwriting the presence of Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester of Ferndean Manor, formerly of Thornfield Hall, was requested in the offices of the solicitors on Thursday next at eleven a.m. to be made part of the will of the late Adelaide Blackthorn, née Eshton, of Wolverlair Abbey in the county of North Yorkshire.
No more information was offered, but I was certain something really compromising for my husband was afoot. The name Eshton made it abundantly clear that it could prove to be even nasty, for John Eshton, Edward’s best friend, had inherited of the family estate of Eshton Hall the previous year. Eshton Hall was situated, as I soon discovered when I went to consult an atlas in the library, near Wolverlair Abbey. They were neighbouring estates. I daren’t formulate my thoughts as yet; I wanted to hear what Edward had to say on the matter. For now, there was nothing to be done, since my injured husband was still asleep and would need to rest. I busied myself with household matters for the rest of the day, banishing the troubling thoughts to the back of my mind.
In the course of the afternoon, Edward’s condition worsened. By 7 pm, he developed a fairly high fever, and by the time Dr. Woodhouse arrived, my husband was tossing restlessly on his bed, shivering and sweating. Alice and I, helped by the doctor and assisted by Johnson, who acted as a temporary valet to my husband, made efforts to lower the fever by bathing Edward in lukewarm water. The doctor administered him a dose of laudanum, and we had him back in bed with the fever considerably lessened. He had not yet calmed down, so I sent everybody away and went to lie down beside him on the bed. I took his head upon me shoulder and talked quietly to him until he fell asleep.
I drifted in and out a fitful sleep all night, being called to attention every time Edward stirred or mumbled. At the break of dawn, I quietly slipped from the bed and dressed myself to go downstairs to a still empty kitchen. Even Alice was not yet up.
Although I was bone-tired, I knew I wouldn’t have any rest until these disturbing matters would be cleared. First there was Mason and his threats against Edward and on top of that there was the letters and what they implied.
I knew very well that Edward had been no saint in the years before I met him. Yet the thought he might have had sexual intercourse with someone related to his friend Eshton was utterly revolting to me. In the letter, Miss Blackthorn clearly implied that she very possibly could be Edward’s daughter. If there was only a remote possibility of this being true, I would need to know before Edward did. I wanted to become familiar with the knowledge in order to process it. It was vital in nursing my bruised self-respect rising from the proof of my husband’s philandering.
So I wasn’t going to tell him about the letters and would deal with the matter myself.
Edward had a fever for three days. It rose to high temperatures in the afternoon with a peak around ten p.m. Alice and I had our hands full trying to lower it, in which we usually succeeded around midnight. After that Edward sank into a restless sleep until around six in the morning, at which time his sleep became nearly comatose. I was thankful for that, for it allowed me a few hours of much needed sleep myself, before the day began. During the morning, he was usually well enough to sit up in bed and consume some broth or porridge, though he seemed never to be fully awake. After the meal, he would drift away into a light sleep until the fever came up again.
Then, on the next Tuesday, the fever slackened considerably. Edward slept through the afternoon and by nightfall he was fast asleep for the first time in days.
So was I, finally; a fact which made me get up on Wednesday in a refreshed state of heart and mind. I meticulously prepared myself for the visit at two p.m. and ordered Keithley, our groom, to take me to Ingram Park in the curricle. I had, of course, never been invited to the majestic Georgian palace-like building, set in its beautiful grounds that was Blanche Ingram’s home. A governess had no place there, not even when she was married to Edward Rochester, whose wealth largely exceeded that of the impoverished Ingrams.
When I was ushered in by a stately walking statue of a butler and let into a majestic drawing room to wait for Miss Blackthorn, I experienced some doubts about the whole business for the first time since receiving her letter. What if she wouldn’t care dealing with me and demand to see my husband instead?