Chapter 7 – Edward’s tale
Edward paused to draw breath and grasped for my hand which he clutched hard.
“I lived like someone who was clubbed on the head; numb, lethargic, and utterly miserable. I roamed the Hall and the lands around it for hours and hours. I yelled at everyone who dared speak to me. I did not eat, could not sleep, found no rest or solace. My heart seemed to have died within my breast, my mind to have fled from my head.”
“Edward …”, I whispered, but he silenced me with a small hand gesture.
“After a time, it slowly got better. I found I could sleep for a couple of hours after I drank myself into oblivion. Mrs. Fairfax, dear soul that she was, kept forcing food on me, and at some point I began taking it in again. It was not a moment too soon, for I had lost some twenty pounds by then. When my strength came back, I began noticing my surroundings again and also, Adèle. The poor mite was as lost as I was, Jane, and I, great, big, selfish lout had not seen it.”
He leaned back somewhat tired, and I offered him a glass of water, which he avidly drank.
“So Adèle and I comforted each other. In the evenings, she came to sit with me in the drawing room and told me what she had done with her day. It seems that she had been keeping up with her lessons as if you were still there. At that point, it occurred to me I ought to take over her education and I busied myself in teaching her. I read several books with her, I took her on a visit of England’s most famous landmarks. Through her young and unbiased eyes I, blind as I was, experienced a new understanding of those places. As a result, Jane, I found myself healed by her youthful enthusiasm, so much that my heartache did not burn so fiercely anymore. I came to be in some kind of peace, a truce after the onslaught of my deepest emotions.”
“Edward, I am so sorry for all that has happened …”
“You are not to blame, Jane, you of all people are certainly not at fault. But let me continue. Adèle wished to go to a boarding school in Newcastle, and I arranged for her to go. She was happy there and made good progress with her learning. I was alone once more, however, and it was even harder to bear than before. Bertha had become even more difficult to handle and Grace Poole, her keeper and servant, was at the end of her wits. Bertha attacked her one night, stabbing her in the chest, and we had to transfer her to the physician’s house in a nearby town. Poor woman nearly died, Jane. Nobody wanted to attend to Bertha from then on, they were all scared to death, so it was up to me.”
By now I watched with fear that he was exhausting himself rapidly.
“Edward, you must stop now and rest. I shall hear the rest after you have slept …”
“No, dearest!”, he cried and gripped my hand even more powerful.
“No, Jane, listen! Bertha, realizing I was her keeper now, began clinging to me almost in an unbearable manner. She refused to eat, to sleep, to be quiet, and she would howl whenever I came into her room. Whenever I let my guard down, even for a second, she tried to attack me, using everything she could get her hands on as a weapon. I was forced, finally, to tie her onto her bed by hands and feet, there was no other way of handling her. Then one night, she managed to escape her room; how I do not know for she was bound as usual. She had been howling for days and nights by then, and the staff was not getting any rest. I had granted them a week’s leave to recuperate, so that night I was alone in the Hall. I was lying on my bed, I had fallen asleep, thoroughly exhausted after I’d tried and failed feeding Bertha. It was just like before, on the night you found me in my burning bedroom. This time I awoke coughing and choking from the smoke, and when I managed to get out of my room, the whole North wing was already in flames! I had to cover myself with my wet cloak to pass through the fire into the tower where Bertha was. When I burst into her room, she was not there. She was outside, on the battlements, standing on the edge, barefoot and in her nightgown, her arms stretched out as if she wanted to fly away. I jumped outside in an attempt to reach her, but between her and me flames were already leaping out of the roof. I called her name, pleaded her to step away from the edge, but she just stood there, rocking and flapping her arms, a strange, insane smile on her face. I managed to jump over the fire, at some point, and edged my way to her, dodging flames, when, suddenly, she leapt from the wall like a huge white bird. I saw her crash onto the stones of the courtyard …”
Edward gasped, and I saw to my abhorrence that he was shaking like a leaf. Tears were running down his face and it seemed as if he could not draw breath.
“Dearest, stop, please?” I begged him. My heart was crying for him and the poor wretched creature that had been his wife. I stroked his face, dried his tears, kissed him. I raked my brain as how to ease his pain. When I leaned over to him, he flung his good left arm about me and buried his face against my breast, gasping in sheer misery. My trembling hands smoothed his tousled curls, and I whispered sweet little nothings to him, until he seemed to calm down a little.
“So you see, Jane, I finally paid for what I did, all those years ago by marrying her without taking the precautions of looking into her family. I was young and stupid, and I paid for it.”
Suddenly he scoffed harshly.
“Seemed I did not pay it to the full! After Bertha had jumped, I endeavoured to get out of that inferno as quick as I could, numbed by what I had seen. When I reached the great wooden staircase in the hall, it collapsed, and I fell into a sea of flames. I have been unconscious for two whole weeks, they tell me. The left side of my body was burned, and I lost two fingers on that hand. I was blind. The doctors told me I must have had a vicious blow to the head because I was found buried under a pile of rubbish in the cellars. That must have saved my life, a large beam had fallen onto my body and protected me from being buried alive. There had been enough air for me to survive until they came searching for me.”
“I cannot thank the Lord enough for sparing your life, Edward. I only wish I had been there for you. It was wrong of me to run away, I know that now.”
“No, sweetheart, you were right to do so. I was selfish enough wanting to take you as my mistress without a thought for your reputation. I will never forgive myself for that.”
By now Edward was breathing very hard with sheer exhaustion.
I hastened to give him some laudanum and a drink of water. Then I undressed to nothing but my chemise and went to lie beside him under the covers. After a while he fell asleep, his head on my chest. I, on the other hand, lay awake for a long, long time.
I slept very late, the following morning and woke to find Edward was still immersed in a comatose-like sleep. As quietly as possible I rose and dressed, determined to make sure no more disturbances befell upon our budding marriage.
Descending the stairs I noticed the great pile of mail George had put on the salver, and I eagerly ruffled through it. One letter instantly captured my attention because the soft, lilac colour of the paper and the round, graciously formed handwriting suggested a female hand.
My curiosity, however, was raised when I read the name of the sender, Miss Edwina Blackthorn, and the addressee, Mr. Edward Rochester of Ferndean Manor.