Chapter 14 – Rochester takes the matter at hand
While we hurried towards the stables Edward asked the head groom who had come to meet us, “Ah, Norton, did you tie him up like I asked?”
“Yes, sir!” the man answered, “an’ a good thing ‘t was too! He’s been trying to get away all the time since he opened his eyes!”
“Edward!” I exclaimed, “Was that necessary? The man is injured, and by my hand to boot!”
My husband laughed out loud but didn’t reply. Instead he grabbed my hand and pulled me with him inside the stables. How confident his footing had become, I noticed in astonishment. His eyesight must indeed be coming back.
We found poor Beaver in the stable shed at the back, firmly tied upon a narrow cot and frantically trying to break his bonds. Someone had put a bandage around his head, and he looked ghastly.
“Oh, Mr. Beaver! I’m so sorry!” I said gently and kneeled beside the cot. I touched his forehead with the back of my hand and found it a little feverish. Beaver seemed surprised but calmed down at my touch.
“Ma’am, I …”, he stammered but I silenced him at once.
“Shhh, Mr. Beaver, keep still. You’re hurt and it was my doing and …”
Edward’s most thundering voice startled us both, and I turned to my husband, only to find him scowling at me in his most impressing manner. I was, of course, not impressed because nothing Edward did, could ever frighten me.
“Yes?” I asked in a calm voice.
His green-grey eyes were definitively looking into mine, and he said briskly, “You seem to have forgotten that this man is Blanche Ingram’s henchman who has kidnapped, imprisoned and harmed you! It is my intention to interrogate him thoroughly and retrieve all information about the wretched wench, so step aside and let me!”
I rose to my feet to give way to my husband, when an anguished cry from the stable entrance made us turn our heads. Miss Edwina Blackthorn flew to Beaver’s cot, took his hand in hers and cried, “Oh, dear Timothy, I’m so sorry it has come to this! We were both submitted to Miss Ingram’s wickedness, and neither of us had a choice!”
She turned a tear-streaked face towards Edward.
“Mr. Rochester, please? I know you have a kind heart. I beg you to take care of poor Timothy who has been a servant in my family as was his mother before him. He has no fault in this, I assure you! We were both victims of Miss Ingram’s doings.”
Edward studied her pensively before he replied evenly, “First, Miss Blackthorn, you will explain to me how you came to think that I was your father.”
She nodded and rose.
“Yes, sir, I will but I cannot leave Timothy’s bedside when he is injured so.”
“I’ve sent for the physician and I give you my word he will be taken care of. So you may leave him in my groom’s capable hands and follow me and Mrs. Rochester back to the house.”
We retired in the parlour where a tray of tea was being served by our capable Alice. I poured us all a cup of the genial beverage, and we sat down in the chairs before the fireplace.
Edwina Blackthorn began her story.
“My mother, who was sister to Mr. Eshton of the estate adjacent to Blackthorn Manor, married Thomas Blackthorn at the age of seventeen. She was, by then, four months pregnant with me but Mr. Blackthorn was not the father. On several occasions have I asked my mother who my father was, but she has always denied me the knowledge of it. Thomas Blackthorn was a cruel and violent man, and my mother has suffered for many years under his harsh treatment before she was finally forced to flee with me when … when he …”
She was weeping now, her slim shoulders shaking with the effort. Edward looked at me with genuine distress in his eyes, so I took the girl in my arms.
“Dear Edwina,” I whispered, “do not upset yourself so. Did he try to seduce you, defile you?”
“Yes,” she choked, “my mother and I ran away after he had beaten her so harshly that she had bleeding wounds in her face and on her body. She came to my defence when, one night, Blackthorn tried to rape me. We fled to the only place where he would not come looking for us, Ingram Park. Lady Ingram and my grandmother Eshton were childhood friends, and she welcomed us most heartily. My mother died a few days later of internal bleedings. I stayed as Blanche’s companion ever since.”
“And Timothy?” I inquired gently, “How does he come in all this?”
“His mother came into my grandmother’s service when she was pregnant of Timothy. She was an orphan who had been raped. Grandmother took her on as a scullery maid and later as a nursery maid. Timothy was working in my uncle Eshton’s stables, when my mother married Blackthorn. He followed her to Blackthorn Manor to find work there. His own mother is living in a cottage that was sold to the Ingram estate a couple of years ago. Blanche threatened to turn her out if Timothy did not obey her. She ordered Mrs. Rochester to be abducted and imprisoned.”
She paused to draw breath and Edward asked, “But why? Why would Blanche do such a thing?”
“Mr. Rochester, she was furious when you married! She said you had betrayed her, you had promised her marriage and then cast her aside to marry Mrs. Rochester.”
Edward’s voice was raw with rage when he uttered, “But that is not true! I have never offered for her!”
“Of course not, my love!” I hastened to say, “How could you when you were already …”
Aghast by my own stupid mistake, I shut my mouth! How could I be so rude as to refer to Bertha!
Edwina went on, unaware of my discomfort.
“She conceived this plan of letting you think you were my father. I refused at first, but she threatened to turn me onto the streets and to drive poor Timothy’s mother out of her cottage if we didn’t do her bidding. She said she has irrevocable proof of you being my father.”
Edward raked a hand through his dark curls in a desperate gesture.
“But … that is impossible! I have never, ever touched Adelaide Eshton in my life! Besides, I have been out of the country for years, and at the time of your conception I was living in the West Indies. I was already married to Bertha!”
“Shhh, I know, my love, calm yourself!” I soothed him.
He rose so abruptly that both me and Edwina were startled by the vehemence of it.
“Well, that settles it! I want Miss Blanche Ingram searched for and found, for she has some serious explaining to do!”