After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Five

Chapter 5 – In dire straits

Richard Mason

 

 

“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.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Four

Chapter 4 – Ghosts from the past

Happy Jane

 

A stray ray of sunshine through a gap in the curtains woke me at dawn and first I was disorientated by my surroundings. A most peculiar sound, one I was not accustomed to, startled me; soft snoring and a warm breath on my bare shoulder. Cuddled up against me, my Edward though still sleeping, had taken full possession of me. One arm and one leg, both naked, were wrapped around me.

My heart leapt at the sight of him; he had thrown away the covers, allowing me to admire the view of his magnificent bare chest. The burn marks were clearly visible in the harsh light of dawn, yet it did not lessen his appearance. They only enhanced the tone of his muscles and the width of his shoulders. My gaze wandered towards his firm buttocks, and his mighty thighs, and it reached his awesome manhood, still impressive even in repose.

I felt the heated stirrings coming to life deep in my body; desire, lush and tangible, washed over me so violently, that I suddenly trembled. Carefully – for I did not want to wake him – I slipped from under Edward’s body and propped myself up on one elbow. He shifted and his leg moved from mine, displaying the whole of his body to me. My breath caught.

What, I wondered, must a woman do when the sight of her naked husband arouses her?

Was I to keep quiet and suffer in immobility? Must I try and seek sleep again, secretly hoping for him to wake? Or must I try and waken him, seduce him out of sleep with light yet urgent caresses?

Unable to keep myself from touching him, I slid a trembling hand over his heavy, dark curls. His left cheek rested upon the pillow and I could only see the unharmed side of his face. I brushed his brow and jaw with feathery fingers and let my hand slide down to his shoulder and arm, revelling in the feeling of the hard muscles. Over the length of his back my hand travelled down to his buttocks and thighs, venturing towards his manhood. Its smoothness astonished me deeply; the velvety skin was like silk under my fingers.

Suddenly I jumped! The object of my admiration suddenly changed in appearance and Edward’s baritone voice murmured, “Give me a second, Jane, and I will soon be ready for you …”

All of a sudden he slipped an arm under me, gripped my waist in both hands and lifted me onto his body. I found myself straddling him and gasped at the wonderful excitement this induced.

“Look what you do to me, you adorable little witch!”

Without a warning he heaved me onto his splendid arousal. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before! Being placed on top of him seemed to heighten the sensitivity of my womanly places to the extreme. I closed my eyes so that I could savour this new and very agreeable feeling.

“Do you like this, Jane?,” Edward’s husky voice interrupted, “And this, my love, how do you like this?”

His hands cupped my breasts and his thumbs rubbed the hard peaks.

A flame of sudden desire overwhelmed me, and instinctively I started to move my pelvis up and down his manhood. Oh God! Oh sweet Lord! My breath seemed to be cut off and my heart stopped.

“Jane … oh, Jane, do not stop! Whatever you do, do not stop!”

My own arousal was now increasing so rapidly I could not have stopped for the life of me. Along with my rising pleasure I was immensely thrilled by the knowledge of my own power over my husband. He wanted me to continue, he liked what I was doing.

His hands travelled quickly up and down my body, from my tingling breasts and nipples to my stomach and thighs. I staggered and had to steady myself by gripping his shoulders. This position only strengthened the already powerful sensations, now rippling through me like a fever. I toppled over into delight so violently I thought my heart would never recover.

Edward’s loud cry of release was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. His hands were buried in the soft flesh of my waist, and he was shaking uncontrollably in the aftermath of his climax.

“Oh Jane, look what you do to me, you wicked, sensual, sweet witch … my own … my very own witch.”

Thornfield Hall

It was early afternoon when we finally woke up.

Never in my whole life had this happened to me, and I sat up with a gasp when I saw the hour on the little Ormolu clock on my nightstand. Two strong arms pulled me back, and Edward mischievously chuckled in my ear, “Where do you imagine you are going, Jane?”

“Edward, it is three o’clock! I cannot imagine what people will think of us and …”

“People can go to hell as far as I am concerned, my little swallow! I must have you shackled onto me at all times, or you might escape me once again.”

Mirth and mayhem were so evident in his rumbling voice that I could not help myself from bursting into laughter.

“If you think of keeping me under your thumb, Edward Rochester, then you can think again! I refuse to be at your beck and call all day, I have a household to run and …”

All at once I was captured fast and hard and pinned on top of him.

“Jane, Jane, how good it is to hear you laugh, to hold you, to … to love you, dearest, sweetest Jane! I knew you would do me good, I knew it from the first time I set eyes on you!”

We kissed … and made love again.

 

When we finally got up and dressed, Edward had a few things in store for me.

“Jane, put on your … coat, bonnet, and whatever it is you females wear and come with me.”

I did so, curious about what he was up to, and found myself dragged away to the stables. Edward must know his way around Ferndean very well for he managed to reach the back of the house solely by searching his way with his cane. His groom was waiting for us, beaming with pride and some secret pleasure. I soon saw why.

An adorable little curricle, brand-new and shining, awaited me.

“Oh! Edward, you bought us a new carriage?”

“Not “us”, darling, this is your own, personal curricle! I want you to master the art of driving it, so we can go on trips around the country side together. I cannot ride any more, remember? Now, tell me, do you like it?”

I was overwhelmed, and tears pricked, but I swallowed them quickly. It would not do should I disgrace myself in front of the groom.

“Yes, of course, Edward, I simply adore it! It is so beautiful, thank you!”

And then I did disgrace myself and flung my arms around him, hugging him fiercely!

“Yes, yes, I know, I am the best!”, he mocked. “Now, come on, Keithley here will drive us. I want you to do something.”

We were driven to the ruin of Thornfield Hall, and the sight of its ragged remains, its blackened stones and hollow, empty windows tore at my very heart. This was the place where I had been the happiest woman on earth.

“Now, Jane,” Edward said, while we alighted, “I want you to take me inside and describe what you see to me. I have to know what can be done to restore it. This is my ancestral home and the place where my children will be born and raised. Keithley, take the horse for a drive and come back to collect us in an hour!”

“Very good, sir,” the groom answered and left with the curricle.

My heart pounded with fear of what I might discover within the poor burned wreck of a house as I guided my husband inside. As we went on through the remains of the hall, the drawing room and library, the dining room and kitchens, I did as Edward wanted; I recounted what I was seeing.

The place was thoroughly damaged.

“Edward, I am no expert on this. Surely you need an architect to establish the right appraisal of the building?”

He squeezed my hand in an affectionate manner.

“I will, Jane, rest assured. I wanted you to talk about what you see because I know you will be telling the truth. Impressions, Jane, feelings, thoughts, that was what I wanted, and you did well.”

He kissed me lightly on the cheek, and we were about to proceed, when suddenly the figure of a man blocked our way-out effectively.

“So it is true what people say about murderers. They do tend to return to the scene of their crimes.”

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Two

Chapter  2 – Jane, I want a wife …

Blanche

 

 

“Edward!”

Blanche Ingram’s voice cut through the hum of voices in the hall. Its shrill loudness made my husband turn his head in astonishment. A smile appeared on his face, and his eyes shone with a wicked pleasure.

“Blanche, you sly little thing, is that you? Well, I never! So you have come to admit defeat then, have you?”

I gasped in surprise at Edward’s mischief, but Blanche’s silvery laugh showed that she wasn’t going to be insulted!

“Now what made you think I have ever been interested in you, you dreadful man? You have never been handsome and now, now you are too hideous to be attractive to me! I’ll gladly abandon you to Miss Eyre here, she is the one who had a crush on you, not me!”

Edward laughed with genuine pleasure and took her into his arms, kissing her on both cheeks with his usual enthusiasm. Blanche Ingram cast me a knowing little smile which brought fire into my face!

“Dear Blanche,” Edward said affectionately, “I am so pleased that you are here, and so is my Jane. But … she is Mrs. Rochester now, don’t you forget that!”

“Of course, how could I forget?”

Blanche turned to me and offered me her hand. We curtsied. I could very well remember the first time I set eyes on her. It was at the house party Edward hosted shortly after Bertha’s attempt to burn him alive in his bed. I was still hurting at the time, because he had left the house the day after I had lost my heart to him. Blanche had seemed like an angel from heaven to Adèle’s young impressionable mind and as I recalled to me, too. I could still see her in my mind’s eye in the white silk dress she wore that night. She made me think of a fairy, so light, so lovely, so beautiful, so much more suitable than me to a man of Edward’s station …

I shook myself. All that was behind me now and of no importance.

Only then did I see the young woman behind her and, recalling my duties as a hostess, I smiled at her.

“Allow me to present Miss Edwina Blackthorn, my companion and friend. Her mother was a dear friend of Mama’s. Miss Blackthorn came to live with us after Mrs. Blackthorn’s death last year,” Blanche said.

We greeted each other, and I studied the young woman more closely.

She was very tall, at least 5’9, and thin but not skinny. She had womanly curves in all the right places. Her hair was a raven black and her eyes were green-blue. She was a stunning beauty.

“May I congratulate you on your marriage, Mr and Mrs Rochester, and thank you for inviting me. I wish you all the happiness in the world.”

A voice like a siren’s! Deep, smooth and seductive … I could see how Edward was savouring the sound of it. Her face looked somehow familiar to me? but I was unable to recall where I had seen her.

My thoughts were distracted when Roberts, looking dashing in his Thornfield livery, presented us all with champagne, and Edward bade a welcome to our guests. The wedding breakfast began.

 

It was a fine party altogether. The food had been excellent and abundant, the wine of the finest quality. Mrs. Fairfax and I had made sure no efforts had been spared. Now the last of our guests had left, and the servants were already tidying up. I told Adèle that it was her bedtime, and she sulked a little, as was her habit.

“Come, Adèle!” Edward admonished her. “Don’t make me sorry to have you stay up that late. Do as Miss Eyre tells you.”

“Oh, Monsieur Rochester!” She giggled. “You are mistaken! She is not Miss Eyre any more but Mrs. Rochester! Can I not call you “Maman” now, Mrs. Rochester?”

I smiled affectionately at her; she was such a cheerful child.

“Yes, Adèle,” I answered, “you can call me whatever you like.”

“No!” Edward shouted, making us both jump, “I absolutely forbid you to call my wife “Maman”, Adèle! She’s not your mother!”

I found this a little harsh of him. Adèle, her eyes full of tears, turned and ran away.

“Edward, that was cruel of you. She’s only a child, she means no offense.”

He sighed and reached for my hand.

“You’re right, Jane, as always. But, when I think of what her mother was like, I cannot bear to have you compared to her!”

“Still, dearest, I think you should apologise to her. She is fast becoming a young woman, and it frightens her when you lose your temper like that. Her feelings are easily hurt.”

Edward chuckled.

“All right, I’ll do it, when it pleases you! But now, my precious little witch, we have other things to attend to, much more important ones than the feelings of a teenager. Lead the way to our bedchamber, Mrs. Rochester.”

Jane and Rochester3

When the bedroom door closed behind us, I abruptly halted, causing Edward to bump into me.

“What is it, Jane?… Are you afraid? Of me, Jane …?”

He stood behind me and wrapped his arms around me, burying his mouth in my hair. I caught his scent, a mixture of sandalwood and musk, and my heart leaped at the closeness of him. My blood pounded in my ears, and I clasped his hands that lay upon my waist.

“I cannot see you, Jane … I can only rely on my memory of you … I remember the way you feel under my hands … I recognize the way you breathe … my body recalls the way you touch me, Jane …”

He kissed me softly above my ear and his breath was warm on my skin.

I took one step towards our bed, two steps and he followed me, hands on my waist, stroking my hips, sending shivers down my spine.

My legs bumped against the bed and he slowly turned me, opening the buttons of my gown. His eyes were a sparkling green and his breath came in shallow gasps. Mine too … as I began undoing his cravat, his waistcoat … Oh God! His hands were on my bare flesh now, pushing my gown from my shoulders, hard and fast! The feeling of his left hand, the one in the white cotton glove, was no less exciting than the one that bore no glove!

I helped him shrug off his coat and waistcoat, undid his shirt buttons with trembling hands.

Suddenly, he grabbed both of my hands and held them hard.

“Jane … Jane, you might not … like to see what’s under there …I don’t want you to be horrified by my injuries …”

I freed my hands and cupped his face.

“Edward, dear precious Edward, I love you … I want to feel you, to love you, to be with you, completely, without boundaries … “

I slid his shirt from his shoulders. Yes, he was damaged … the left side of his chest was shrivelled and red, his left arm badly bruised where the flames had gnawed at him. I didn’t care … he was magnificent! Broad, hard shoulders, strong muscled arms, flat stomach and slim waist …

My fingers fumbled with the buttons of his trousers and Edward gasped.

“You wicked little witch …”,  he breathed but did not interrupt me. Instead his hands were pushing my gown down along my legs and then went up to my stays. In seconds he had unhooked them, leaving me in my chemise and drawers.

“Jane … will you do something for me?”

“Yes … Edward …”

“Get rid of those stupid clothes and wait for me in bed with your eyes closed. I’ll undress and I’ll join you. I want our first contact to be completely naked, Jane … my flesh must find yours … please, Jane … we must touch without you seeing me …”

 

 

 

 

 

After I Married Rochester – Part One

Dreaming2

This story is a continuation of Jane Eyre 2006, starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. Jane has finally married her Rochester, a man scarred by what happened before. In the great fire that destroyed his ancestral home, Bertha, Rochester’s first wife had perished. Rochester is badly burned and has lost his eye sight.

Posted every Saturday by Lucia Swiers in Jane Eyre 2006. 

Chapter 1 – The first day of the rest of my life

So, it was done.

This morning, my dear Edward and I were finally joined in holy matrimony.

After all the suffering we endured, after all the waiting , we were finally married before the community of the little church nearby the manor-house of Ferndean. It was the residence Edward had taken refuge to after the great fire at Thornfield Hall.

This time, nothing disrupted the ceremony of our wedding.

No messenger came barging in, shouting that there was an impediment to our marriage. How well I remembered these horrible events of the past, when Richard Mason accused Edward of bigamy.

Bertha Rochester’s brother had been in the right. Edward’s dangerously insane wife was still alive and breathing on the day Edward wanted to marry me, Jane Eyre.

However, I saw Edward blanch when it was my turn to give my answer to him as if he feared for some disruption. Only the soft pressure of my hand on his made the colour return to his features.

 

I was rich now. Jane Eyre, little grey mouse, forced before to making a living as a governess, had now turned into a proper gentlewoman.

The money my uncle John Eyre left me was secured in a safe trust fund and provided me with an annual income of some five thousand pounds. In our marriage contract Edward had granted me the use of this money entirely as I wished to. It was his wedding present to me.

When he told me the previous night, I had wept with happiness because I knew he had done it for me to feel free and independent, even after I had become his wife. Only Edward knew how much independence meant to me.

And speaking of independence, of course, I had not forgotten Adèle. How could I? She would need me more than ever now that she was changing from a girl into a young woman. My plans for her were not yet fully drawn up, but I was determined to take it up with Edward in the days to come.

 

Edward, my husband.

While I stood by his side in the great entrance hall of Ferndean about to host our wedding guests, I had a chance to study him at my leisure before people would arrive.

My heart sang with unmitigated joy, as it always did when I feasted my eyes on him.

Tall, upright and proud, Edward stood without the help of his rosewood cane, although I knew that he would not be able to maintain strength in his injured left leg long enough for the day. His left hand, maimed by the fire that had destroyed Thornfield, was covered with a white cotton glove, so that people would not be confronted with the absence of the ring finger and little finger.

Edward was very prim about that hand, he wanted nobody to see what he called his “horror”. Even I had not been permitted to see it, and he never touched me with it.

His face had also been damaged in the fire. The skin on the left cheek was shrivelled and red, and his left eye was blind while his right eye had lost all ability of sharp vision. The ugly scars, however, could not blur the beauty of those strong bones or mask the strength in the lines of his jaw. His straight nose and lush mouth were still untouched and his eyes, though blind, were still a beautiful, unusual green-blue. Since the day we had found each other again, those eyes sometimes regained a sparkle of bright pure joy but … only sometimes, and not nearly often enough.

I was determined not to let him slip away in gloom but I knew it would be difficult. Edward’s body was not the only thing damaged in the fire that killed his wife, Bertha.

 

As though he felt that I was watching him, Edward turned to me, his eyes almost sky blue when a ray of sunshine illuminated his face. My breath caught in my throat, and I swallowed the huge lump of emotion  with considerable effort. Keep a head onto your shoulders, I admonished myself, you have got a long day ahead of you.

“Jane …”

The love in Edward’s slightly hoarse voice overwhelmed me with a longing that burned deep within my breast. I came to stand beside him and took his right hand in mine.

“Jane, hold me close … sometimes I cannot feel you near enough and I cannot bear that, Jane!”

“I’m here, Edward, I will always be here …”

With a groan, he pulled me close, and his right arm hugged me to his chest, so forcefully that it hurt.

While I listened to the racing beat of his heart where my cheek rested again the soft skin in his neck, I heard him whisper, “Will you, my lovely little swallow, will you indeed?”

I did not answer for it was a question that came from fear settled deep inside him.

“You left me once before, remember?” he said hoarsely.

“Oh, Edward.”

So doubt was still strong in Edward’s soul, and mere words could not ease it. Instead, I pressed harder against his chest and kissed his cheek. I already bore a stubble although it was not yet five in the afternoon. He would need a proper manservant, I reminded myself, since his valet had not been taken on again after the fire.

 

The next moment Mrs. Fairfax bustled in, her gentle face with its myriad of wrinkles red from excitement.

“ Jane, erm, I mean, Mrs. Rochester, ma’am, the guest have arrived, and I do not know where to begin!”

“Please, Mrs. Fairfax, do calm yourself. You and I know that everything is in the best of order to properly receive them. Make sure the staff is in attendance and all will go well.”

I straightened my shoulders and took my place in front of the table at the large window. Edward came to stand beside me.

“Here we go, Jane! Are you up to facing the hyenas?” he chuckled mischievously.

I suppressed a laugh and forced my face into dignity.

Gradually, the room was filling with Edward’s tenants and their wives, all in their Sunday best.

Although Thornfield Hall no longer existed, the Thornfield estate was still very much in business and thriving. It still boasted of eighty farms, all largely successful and providing Edward with a considerable income.

All these people came to wish us well in honour of our marriage and many had brought simple but endearing presents which a footman stowed away upon the table behind us.

Our few servants were next to pay us honour.

There was, of course, Mrs. Fairfax, our housekeeper, and Grace Pool, once a nurse to Edward’s first wife Bertha. She was now employed as lady’s maid to me and Adèle, taking care of our wardrobe.

A few footmen from Thornfield Hall had come with Edward when he took up house at Ferndean and dear old George, the old butler, had them firmly under his thumb. He was training Roberts, a young man related to Mrs. Fairfax, as the future butler in our household.

All wished us the very best of happiness in our marriage.

After that, it was time for more serious work. Our neighbours, many of them local gentry, were arriving. There was the Squire and Mrs. Withers from Waverly Court, a modest little estate north of Thornfield Hall, with their four young daughters and one son Master William, a nineteen year old youth. Mrs. Withers was a kind, homely lady and Squire Wilfred was a short rotund man of cheerful disposition.

The Vicar, Reverend Geoffrey Tovey and his wife Gwendolyne and their twin sons, Charles and Henry, fifteen years old, were next. Gwendolyne Tovey was more than twenty years younger than her husband and the three of them, young and impulsive as they were, managed to keep the Reverend on his toes. I embraced Gwendolyne as affectionately as I could for, in the few weeks that I had made her acquaintance, she had become a true friend to me.

Finally the most important of our guests entered the hall and people stepped out of their way for fear of causing offense.

Dressed in a magnificent gown of vivid blue silk, Blanche Ingram strode through the double doors like a queen entering Winchester Cathedral on Coronation Day. Her golden locks were gathered in an intricate chignon on top of her head, from where several heavy curls fell beside her heart shaped face.

She looked so perfect that my breath caught in my throat. The look in her cornflower blue eyes was challenging, to say the least.