Chapter 6 – Torn by doubt
I could scarcely believe it!
There I was sitting beside my husband’s sick bed, staring at his prostrated body; Edward was still deeply sunk in unconsciousness. We had been married for only one day …
During the long hours of my watch, I relived the terrifying events at the Hall. I was not shaken by Mason’s behaviour – no, not at all. In fact, I pitied the man; he had lost a beloved sister in a most atrocious way and he obviously was still in shock over it. Not for a moment had I thought myself in danger, not even when the gun was held against my head. I was convinced that, given the opportunity, I could have talked him out of hurting us.
No, my fears and worries originated from the very strange reaction Edward had when he heard that Mason had been a witness on that terrible night.
My husband, when again confronted with Bertha’s death, had been horrified, and more specifically, when Mason had accused him of murdering his sister. I knew I could never forget the look of strong abhorrence on Edward’s face, nor the frozen bearing his body took, as if a part of him was dying on the spot.
I only knew what had taken place on that dreadful night from what Edward had told me. From what the servants whispered when they thought themselves unobserved. Edward did not speak much of his wife’s death. Although his love for Bertha had died long before he knew me, he had always done the best he could for her. Moreover, he had never harmed her, not even when, on numerous occasions, Bertha had attacked him. So, in view of all this, I did not think he had wanted her to die. If he had told me the truth, then he had done all he could to save her. If he had told the truth …
My hands flew to my face, in disgust over my own thoughts!
I loved Edward to distraction; he was my husband, for God’s sake! How could I even think such horrendous things!
But I did. At the time of Bertha’s death, Edward had been deeply in love with me. I had run away from him, abhorring the thought of committing bigamy or becoming his mistress. The only person standing between the two of us had been Bertha. The temptation of doing away with her must have been enormous for him. Had he actually pushed her? Or had he refrained from helping her in those final moments, when she stood on the edge of the battlements’ precipice?
When Sophie entered to take her turn to watch the patient, I went to look for Mrs. Fairfax. It was near dawn,and I knew I would find her in the kitchen, readying herself for the tasks of the new day.
“Mrs. Fairfax,” I asked, when we were seated at the large oak table enjoying a cup of tea, “do you know what happened on the night Thornfield Hall burned down?”
I had startled her. She looked at me with huge eyes in a deadly white face.
“What? What is it, Mrs. Fairfax?” I urged, suddenly very much concerned. However, she had already recovered and shook her head.
“I don’t really know, Jane, I’m sorry. The master had given us leave for a few days, and I went to visit my sister in the village. She’d just become a grandmother by her daughter, and I hadn’t seen the baby yet … but …”
“Yes, Mrs. Fairfax, but … what?”
I could see she was now very upset and I took her hand in mine. If I was to go to the bottom of this, I needed her to be my ally.
“Dear Mrs. Fairfax, Alice … my husband was very badly wounded yesterday by the hand of Richard Mason, brother to the first Mrs. Rochester. What little I know of Mr. Mason, is that he is a kind man. I cannot imagine why he would want to harm the master. They used to be good friends. Mr. Mason must think the master has done something terrible to his sister, but I cannot believe such a thing. My husband cannot be a murderer, Alice, I refuse to think him one. So I must contrive to find out what really happened that night when Mrs. Rochester died.”
Mrs. Fairfax looked me in the eye now, her face still very pale and her eyes haunted.
“Oh, Jane … there is some talk amongst the country folk about the master. Some believe him to have pushed his wife to death from the battlements.” Her voice broke with misery, and I felt my heart grow cold!
“Were there any witnesses? Has anyone seen anything?” I asked softly.
“No. There was an inquest, of course. The coroner asked for witnesses to come forward, but none came! The master was acquitted of every suspicion.”
“Acquitted? Was there a trial, then?”
“No, of course not! For a powerful landlord to be imprisoned and put to trial, a coroner needs to have impeccable proof of foul playing and there wasn’t any, only talk and gossip!”
Yes, of course, I thought, the rich and powerful answered to different laws than the poor did.
Later, when had returned to my husband’s bedside, I pondered over all the facts I had been given.
One question stood out clearly in my mind; how was it that people were gossiping about Edward being his wife’s murderer, when there had been no witnesses that night? Could it be true that Mason had indeed witnessed something? Why had he not come forward at the inquest if that were true?
Someone must have started these rumours. Why? Who?
Edward suddenly stirred and moaned. Thank God! He was coming round! I sprang to my feet and took his hand.
“Edward …”, was all I managed to say before my voice gave way. It was enough. His eyes fluttered open and I saw he had recognized my voice and smiled.
“Hey, my dearest witch … ouch! My head … how come I have such a splitting headache? What’s happened?”
“You were injured, yesterday. Do you remember our encounter with Richard Mason at the Hall?”
“Yes … yes, I do now …”, he croaked and tried to sit up.
“No, Edward, you must stay down, the doctor says you have concussion,” I urged him.
“Right he is! Why do I feel so weak, Jane?”
“You were shot. You have lost a fair amount of blood but Edward …”
I hesitated, afraid of having to upset him. My conscience, however, was not to be silenced.
“Edward, please, you must tell me about the night Bertha died”, I said softly. “I think that as your wife, I have a right to know …”
He turned his blind gaze to me, and I saw tears coming into his eyes.
“Jane, I swear I did not kill her! Say you believe me, Jane, I beg you, please say it!”
I swallowed back my own tears now.
“Dearest, I cannot for the life of me think of you as a murderer. But Mason said he saw you pushing Bertha over the edge and …”
“He’s lying! He’s bloody lying, Jane!”
This outburst of rage cost him a fit of coughing, and I had to steady him because I was afraid he might cause his arm wound to bleed.
“Shhh! Shhh! Calm yourself, Edward, please?”
I gave him some water to drink and then I settled him against the pillow.
“Now, tell me everything, from the very first beginning.”
Taking a deep breath Edward began recounting the events of that wretched night.