After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Fifteen

Chapter 15 – An organized programme of everyday life

The Rochesters

 

 

After all this disturbance teasing our tender marriage, Edward and I firmly banished all diversion from the truly important matters concerning our life together. We had work on our hands; we needed to get started on the restoration of Thornfield Hall, Edward’s ancestral home.

The next six weeks, we were diligently working, talking to architects and craftsmen, and laying out plans for the rebuilding and refurbishment. We settled in a nice enough routine, working in pleasurable companionship by day, sweetly indulging in each other’s bodies by night.

I dedicated myself to organising my household. This proved to be a gigantic task, even with Alice’s help. We hired five new maids, two upstairs and two downstairs, and one scullery maid. It also took me the whole of three weeks of interviewing possible candidates for a gentleman’s gentleman or valet for Edward. They were all, without exception, very reluctant to be examined by a lady. I had to stand firm at times but eventually, I succeeded in hiring Thomas Devereaux who came with excellent references from the service of a duke’s younger son killed at Waterloo. The most important was that Edward approved of him.

Miss Blackthorn and Beaver stayed with us, of course. The former became good friends with our dear Adèle, now quite a young lady of fourteen going on fifteen.

Ah, yes, Adèle …

Edward wanted to send her to some institute for the education of young women in London, but that was not at all what Adèle wished.

Adèle wanted to go to Paris.

As I had too many issues demanding my attention, I could not accompany her, and she was too young to travel alone. Edward was strongly against her going, even though he knew how much she longed for it. So we were in an impasse, Adèle pouting, Edward grumbling, and me at a loss as how to  remediate this.

 

Six weeks later matters stood as follows.

Thornfield Hall had a roof and glazed windows again. The plumbing was installed so that there was water in every bedroom. There was a storage room for wood on every floor so that the maids wouldn’t have to go all the way downstairs to see to the fires. The servants’ work would surely be a great deal easier in the Hall when it was finished.

Edward had made inquiries about the whereabouts of Blanche Ingram.

She had disappeared from Ingram Park the very night of my escape from the shed. It seemed that she had taken only a few personal possessions and all her jewellery, stolen some money from her brother’s strongbox and ridden off on her spirited bay mare to destinations unknown. Lady Ingram, so Edward was told when he went to interrogate her, was indisposed and had taken to her bed. Philip Ingram, the new baronet after his father’s death the previous year, refused to speak to Edward about his sister. It appeared he was still harbouring some disgruntled feelings over Edward’s behaviour towards Blanche. To me it seemed that Blanche Ingram had been indulging herself in wishful thinking as to Edward’s involvement with her.

We did, however, racked our brains about where she might have gone to and to whom. An unmarried woman of gentle birth had only so few places where she could hide. She could take refuge with a relative, like an aunt or a married sister, or go to a boarding house of good reputation, which was only a temporary solution, because someone would sooner or later find out who she was and tell her family or a magistrate.

 

Timothy Beaver healed more slowly than expected. He developed a fever which weakened him so badly he lost over thirty pounds. After the above-mentioned six weeks he was, however, able to resume a task as a stable hand. He was a very hardworking, quiet sort of fellow. Norton, the head groom, was pleased with him. It was no luxury to have him, especially now that Keithley was injured. Keithley’s shoulder was healing well but slowly, because the bullet had damaged his collarbone. Miss Blackthorn spent a lot of time with him when he was off duty. I suspected she harboured some remorse. It had been Miss Blackthorn who shot Keithley the day I was abducted. She had received shooting lessons from Blanche’s brother while she had been staying at Ingram Park.

Soon thereafter, Beaver came to ask Edward for a favour. My husband received him in the drawing room after luncheon where we were drinking our coffee.

“Ah, Beaver!” Edward cheerfully exclaimed when the big man entered. “What can I do for you? I trust you’re back to your old self?”

“Yes, Mr. Rochester, sir, thank you, I’m well enough. But …” He stopped speaking and bowed his head, as in great embarrassment.

“Come, Mr. Beaver,” I encouraged him gently, “what is it that you want?”

My soft words seemed to ease him and he ventured, “It’s my mother, Mrs. Rochester. She’s old and she’s not well. It’s been months since I went to see her and I’m worried. I came to ask a leave of absence to visit her.”

“Of course, man!” Edward answered, “Take a horse and go and see her. Take all the time you need.”

“You will also take a basket of food with you, Mr. Beaver, as a present from us to your mother. I’ll tell Cook to prepare one. When are you planning to leave?”

 

The next day, we had a visitor. It was John Eshton who had been in London for some time, and only now had heard what had befallen Edward. He was even more upset when he listened to our story about Blanche Ingram, and how she damaged Edward’s name by bestowing Miss Edwina Blackthorn as his daughter upon him.

“My goodness, Edward!” he exclaimed, “She must have gone mad! My poor sister and you? How could that ever be possible? Adelaide was already married to Blackthorn, when I introduced her to you at a house party.”

“Exactly so!” Edward chimed in. “It was nothing but Blanche’s viciousness  with the intention of disturbing my marriage to Jane.”

At that exact moment, Miss Edwina entered the room and, on seeing her uncle, rushed forward to throw herself into his waiting arms.

“Edie, my sweet! Oh, how wonderful to see you again! Dear girl, you have no idea how sorry I am I was not here when all this happened. I thought you were safe at Ingram Park!”

“I was, Uncle!” Edwina said, “Until Mr. Rochester’s marriage, I was. It’s only since then that Blanche grew all awkward and set up her plan to ruin Mr. Rochester’s marriage. But, Uncle, you do know that Blackthorn was not my father?”

“Well,” Eshton said, “to say I knew is perhaps a little farfetched but I suspected it, although never a word has been said about it. I don’t, however, have any inkling of who was your father, dear girl. Addie never said anything, not even to our mother, with whom she was pretty close.”

A noise from the direction of the hall made us turn our heads.

“Sir, sir, you cannot …”

Alice’s alarmed voice was heard just seconds before the door was thrown open to let a man about whom we’d banned out of our minds.

“Rochester, I demand to speak with you! Immediately! It bears no delay, sir!” the agitated voice of Charles Mason barked at my stunned husband.

 

 

 

 

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Fourteen

Chapter 14 – Rochester takes the matter at hand

Proud Richester

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 …”

“Jane!”

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!”

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Thirteen

Chapter 13 – The reckoning

Angry Rochester

I was, of course, not frightened at all!

Edward, for all his brooding and hot temper, would never frighten me; he was all bark and no bite. Even so, standing tall and ramrod straight, his unseeing grey-green eyes blazing with … something which was not fury.  He was an impressing sight, and just by looking at him my heart rose sky-high!

“Well?” he asked, in a low voice, which made my pulse race. I did not reply but started undressing as silently as I could. In a couple of moments, I was only wearing my shoes and stockings.

“Well? Are you going to give me an answer, Mrs. Rochester?”

His voice was really threatening now, but when I saw the beginning of a smile dancing at the corner of his mouth, I decided to play along with the game he had in mind.

“Edward …”, I said plaintively, “I am so very exhausted. I will give you an answer but not now. I really need to get some rest. Please?”

His face was suddenly full of concern.

“Jane, are you hurt? I’m so sorry, darling, I …”

“No, Edward, please, leave me be and let’s go to bed. It’s the middle of the night.”

I carefully opened the bed and sat down. Edward began to take of his coat and dropped it in the middle of the room. My pulse started beating erratically. Then his shirt followed, and I had to smother a gasp of anticipation.

When he took a few steps towards the bed, I drawled in a tired voice, “Will you not help me with my stockings and shoes, Edward? My whole body is aching with fatigue …”

“Christ, Jane, sweetheart, why did you not say so? Why did you let me be so ghastly?”

He reached the bed, and I stuck out my feet, which he took into his hands, easing off my boots. His hands glided upwards along my stockings now, sending heat waves up to the centre of my core.

“Jane, … where are your skirts?” he smiled, finally understanding. I had already loosened his breeches, and my hands were roaming over his chest and stomach, pushing down his clothes until he was as bare as I was.

With a groan from deep within his chest, he gathered me up and lifted me away from the bed. Suddenly my back was pinned against the wall, and he pushed into me, hard and frantically. After one heartbeat, I was over the edge, my body throbbing with immense pleasure. I clung to my husband’s body, anxious to widen the distance between us. I felt the muscles of his back and legs straining up like steel cords when he cried out his release.

For the length of an eternity, we remained there against the wall, clinging to each other like two lost souls. Then, with his head buried between my breasts, Edward’s low voice reached my ears.

“Jane, you wicked witch, if you ever do that disappearing act on me again, I swear to God I will … smother you with pleasure so that you might never recover!”

I looked down and chuckled.

“Well, my Lord and Master, coming from a man who is wearing nothing but his boots and whose breeches are down on them, this does not impress me very much!”

The next moment, the Master threw me onto our bed, discarded the said garments in the blink of an eye, and was again upon me in no time.

 

When I woke up the next morning, Edward was already wide awake.

I kissed him on the mouth in an impulse and he flushed.

“What is it, my love? Am I taking you by surprise?” I asked in a playful tone.

“No, sweet Jane of mine, that is not it. I feel suddenly ashamed because I have not told you of … Jane, do not be cross with me but … something wonderful has happened to me. My eyesight is improving and at this moment, I can actually see you, not sharply, but not as vaguely as before.”

It was a lot to take in, and I remained silent for a while.

“So, Edward, last night, you deceived me in letting me think you didn’t know I took my garments off?”

“I need more than one single lamp to see, my little witch, I need daylight. No, I didn’t know. The surprise was so intense that I could barely refrain myself long enough from … well, you know, don’t you?”

“No, Edward, I do not know what you mean, so please oblige me and explain?”

It was impossible not to laugh when I saw he believed me for just a tiny moment.

“You … you wicked woman! Come here!”

 

After our morning ablutions and a very late breakfast, Edward and I retired to the parlour with a large pot of coffee. We needed to talk about many things.

“So, my Jane, tell me why you found it important to go careering around the countryside without me knowing?”

“Oh no, Edward Rochester, you first! What can you tell me about Miss Edwina Blackthorn?”

“Now that was embarrassing! I had to ask the venerable Fairfax if she would read my letters. I don’t know who of us was most flushed but I don’t think it was me because Mrs. F. was gasping in horror when she made the same conclusion you did, Jane.”

Trust Edward to make a foolishness out of something so serious!

He looked deeply into my eyes. Yes, he was truly looking, something he had not done for a long time!

“Jane, upon my honour, I have never had sexual intercourse with Eshton’s sister for the very simple reason that she was already well and truly married before I was introduced to her. If she gave birth to a child that was conceived before her marriage to Blackthorn, it had nothing to do with me.”

I wanted so very much to believe him.  My heart believed him unconditionally but my rational and naturally suspicious mind told me otherwise. It was long before I knew him so it didn’t affect me much but still … I felt uncomfortable about it.

“Are you going to see the solicitors?”, I asked him.

“Yes, that is my intention. There is more to it than meets the eye, Jane. This Blackthorn girl, whom, by the way, I’ve never met before, seems a decent enough person. Furthermore, there is Blanche’s role in all this. Blanche has disappeared from Ingram Park, did you know? Lady Ingram is beside herself with worry, or so the servant, who brought me the message, told me.”

“You will have to make a new appointment, Edward, you were supposed to meet them at eleven this morning.”

“No, my sweetling, Edward Rochester just barges in when he pleases and no one, not even a distinguished solicitor, is going to make objections to that!”

A knock on the door drew our attention away from Miss Blackthorn for the moment and I summoned the knocker in. It was Johnson.

“Mr . Rochester, sir, Mrs. Rochester, ma’am, the stable master says that Beaver has regained consciousness, and now would be a good time if you want to interrogate him, sir.”

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Twelve

Chapter 12 – Hope against hope

Dying Jane

I struggled.

With all my strength, with all the resolve I could muster, I drew deep into my reserves to fight the pressure of Beaver’s murdering hands. I clawed at him, I scratched his hands, his face, I kicked him in the stomach and the underbelly, but, of course, it was all to no avail. Slowly but inevitably, the breath was driven out of me. My thoughts, weakening but stubborn, seemed to float towards the one person of genuine importance in my life; Edward, my husband. Far more horrible than to die was the notion that I would never, ever, see my darling Edward again. My body, awakened by his touch, would never savour pleasure again. My heart, bursting with love for him, would never meet his again in blissful union. Drifting into total blackness, my last coherent thought was for him, my darling Edward.

 

The sound of an infernal racket dragged me back into this life; I managed to open my eyes. Someone had brought a lamp into the shed, and in its flickering light I saw shadows dancing and whirling whilst I heard grunts and thumps, consistent with fighting. Two men seemed to be engaged in wrestling, punching, and rolling from one end of the shed to the other.

I found I could breathe again, although my throat was throbbing painfully; every blissful intake of air seemed to burn my lungs. My rasping, laboured breathing was deafening to my own ears. My vision, however, was rapidly clearing and, at first, I could not believe my eyes. I must be dreaming; how was it possible that one of the fighters was Edward?

 

But it was him!

It was my Edward, sitting astride upon Beaver and showering him with hard blows. Beaver was a big man, though. He grabbed Edward by the lapels of his coat and managed in overturning him. Edward did not stop striking at him for one second, yet he was now at the receiving end of Beaver’s beefy fists.

How had he managed to get here in the first place? He was blind, it was virtually impossible for him to find his way in unknown surroundings!

Oh, merciful God! Edward was bleeding in the face! I must help him, he was weakening under the heavy blows. I crawled on hands and feet towards the heap of rubbish in one of the shed’s corners. Groping rather than seeing, my fingers found a piece of wood that seemed heavy enough to knock a person unconscious. However, to do that, I had to be on my feet, and that was very difficult since the world was tilting from time to time. Therefore I concentrated on my breathing and, seeking support against the wall, I slowly stood. My heart nearly stopped when I saw Beaver’s hands around Edward’s throat, squeezing hard. In two steps I was upon him, hitting the back of his head with the wood as hard as I could. Without a sound he collapsed on top of Edward, who grunted when the wind was driven out of him by the fellow’s weight. Using both hands, I managed to roll Beaver off him, and next I was showering Edward’s face with kisses. I was stroking him and uttering nonsense, until he pulled me into his arms and kissed me so fervently on the mouth that tears sprang into my eyes. I did not move, though; I could not move for the life of me. I was too happy to be in his arms again, to feel him, to be alive and to be his!

A flutter of movement reached the corner of my eye!

I broke our kiss and was on my feet in seconds, only to see the slender figure of Miss Edwina Blackthorn who fell onto her knees beside Beaver’s motionless form.

“Oh, Timothy, I’m so sorry. Mr. Rochester, I think he’s dead! He doesn’t move! Oh, somebody help me, please?”

The misery in her voice made me rush by her side and feel for the man’s pulse. He was alive, and I told her so. Edward was there too now, feeling the man’s head.

“Do not worry, Miss Blackthorn, he is only unconscious, but we have to put him to bed. Now, Jane, my love, is there something here that could serve as a cart, a wheelbarrow, maybe?”

I looked around but saw nothing.

“There is one outside, Mr. Rochester, I will get it!” Miss Blackthorn exclaimed and ran away.

“How on earth did you come here, Edward? And with her? I do not understand.”

Edward chuckled and pulled me back into his arms again.

“She came to Ferndean last night, and told me everything. By then I was nearly out of my mind with worry for you, witch! What business did you have, I ask you, to go traipsing around the countryside alone and without me? Keithley came back with the curricle by dusk, shot through the shoulder and with no idea of your whereabouts. He only knew about your visit to Blanche Ingram and told us about the attack while he was driving you home. It seems that he was ambushed and shot without him seeing his attacker. When he came to his senses again, you were gone. I had search parties to find you but I had no inkling as to where to start looking!”

“Blanche Ingram … oh, Edward, she’s behind all this! She … “

“Shhh!  I know, Miss Blackthorn told me. But …”

“Mr. Rochester, sir, I have the cart but I do not think it fits through the door”, came Miss Blackthorn’s voice from outside.

“Come, Jane, give me a hand. We must get this fellow here to Ferndean. I want to interrogate him thoroughly once he wakes up.”

 

Between the three of us, we managed to get Beaver onto the cart, after I bound his hands onto his back. Miss Blackthorn was begging me not to do it, but Edward was anxious that he might get violent again, should he wake up before we reached home. We then wheeled the cart through the moorland and back to the road where Edward had left the curricle. With Beaver tight up at our feet, and the three of us cramped together on the seat, Miss Blackthorn drove us to Ferndean. She was the only one who could actually drive the contraption, me being ignorant still of how to do it and Edward being blind.

Once we reached the manor, Edward’s loud orders immediately made the house spring to life.

Beaver was carried away to the stables where he was to be fastened on a makeshift bed; his head wound was bathed and bound. Miss Blackthorn was whisked away by an agitated Alice to a guest room, and I was grabbed firmly by my husband and marched up the stairs and into our bedchamber.

Edward kicked the door shut, and I had barely the chance to put my lamp down before he seized both of my arms. In a fit of rage, he barked at me, “You, Jane Rochester, have some serious explaining to do! What were you thinking of, opening my letters and acting in my place without notifying me?”

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Eleven

Chapter 11 – Peril and predicament

 

I had to get away before that man Beaver returned!

My bonds were not that tight but they were behind my back. I tried to wriggle them more loose but it only gave me more pain in my shoulders. After a while I gave up and looked about me. Outside it was dark so I guessed it must be later than five in the afternoon, but I had no inkling how late it really was. I had been unconscious, and there was no way of knowing how long . Blanche must have drugged me when she served tea earlier on.

In the shed, there was a lot of clutter lying around. What if I attempted to find something that could  sever my bonds? Unfortunately, my left leg was shackled onto the wall, and the chain was but a good three or four feet long. I ventured in the direction of a heap of rubbish nearby, relieved to find the chain long enough to investigate its possibilities, using my right foot to rummage through the debris.

Chips of wood and iron, nothing, however, with a sharp enough edge to cut the rope that bound my hands. Ah, a shard of glass! I managed to lie down, roll myself onto my back and, after a few miscalculations, was able to grab the chip of glass firmly into my fingers. Sitting upright again, I endeavoured cutting the rope.

It was hard labour. I cut myself in the wrists several times and it was a wonder I didn’t slice them. I do not know how I managed to avoid that. After a long, long time, I had freed my hands, but my wrists were bleeding, so I tried binding them with stripes of fabric I tore from my petticoat. It diminished the bleeding a little but not entirely.

My most difficult problem, though, was the leg chain. It bore a padlock the size of a fist and there was nothing at my disposal to deal with that. Discouraged and tired, I indulged in a few moments of despair. I wept; it is a woman’s ultimate way of coping with the cruel ordeals of life.

How many times in my life had I been desperate and miserable?

Since I had been a small child, since the first awareness beyond babyhood, I had experienced cruelty, first by my aunt Reed and secondly by the teachers of Lowood School. I had shed many a tear in my life and always, I had found solace in them. It lifted the heavy feeling of desperation and misery and it restored the mind and heart. It did then, too.

I felt refreshed and ready to tackle the next hurdle.

The vital thing to do was to free my leg, and I could not do so by unlocking or breaking the lock. But I could try and ease my foot out of the steel band. I have very thin ankles and feet and I am fairly lithe so I decided to give it a try. First I took my kid boot off, it was very dirty and scraped after all I had been through. What a pity, I thought, these boots were new and now they were as good as ruined! Secondly, I bent my ankle in a way that I was able to wriggle my heel through the steel ring. It was much harder than Ihad anticipated but I succeeded. My foot, hurting from the unusual stretching movements it had gone through, was free at last. I massaged it thoroughly to improve the blood flow.

Taking a deep breath of relief, I stood and headed for the door. Next problem, I thought, and gritted my teeth. Of course, it was firmly locked. Swallowing my disappointment, I looked around. It was night but there was a full moon; the wooden shed’s walls were made out of uneven boards with many gaps between them. There was a small window just under the rafters of the roof which was approximately at a distance of seven feet from the floor. This was too high for me, for I am not at all tall. Moreover, there was nothing lying around that I could use as a step-up. Nevertheless, I attempted to reach the window by means of a broken chair upon which I placed a wooden bucket upside down. It was a rickety construction but it held my weight just long enough for me to push open the window and hoist myself up. My legs tangled in my skirts, I was now balancing on my stomach on the narrow windowsill wondering how on earth I was to land outside without braking any bones.

Two seconds later, these wonderings were no longer a concern, for I was grabbed around my waist by two large hands, pulled down and placed upon my feet rather forcibly. The man Beaver had returned without me noticing, and he was holding my wrists so firmly that I feared he would break them.

Beaver2

He was a ghastly sight!

Well over six feet, broad and barrel-like, he growled and gasped, and the foul smell of his mouth wafted over me. I had to keep myself from gagging at the beastly features of this … creature while he shook me like a ragdoll.

“Bad … that was bad … you should not have done that! Milady will be cross with me now and she will do vengeance on me! She has said so and she will do it! If you run away, Beaver will have to pay for it! That’s what she said and she will do it!”

His voice was quaking with what seemed like sheer panic. He shook me so hard that my head was lolling back and forth. Although a heavy fear was threatening to paralyse me, I fought to keep my wits about me. How incredible it may seem, this giant of a man was, for some reason, intensively scared of Blanche Ingram.

“Mr Beaver,” I asked in what I hoped was a gentle voice, “Mr Beaver, please? Tell me what milady will do to you? Maybe I can help you?”

My teeth were rattling from his shaking me, and I had great difficulty in speaking those words. At least I had some result, for he stopped his movements and looked at me in disbelief.

“You? What can you do? You are small and weak; milady wants you dead! You are lying, you cannot help me!”

“Yes, I can, Mr. Beaver, I promise! My husband is Mr. Rochester from Thornfield Hall and he will stop lady Blanche!”

Beaver’s eyes grew round with panic now and he growled, “Rochester? He’s a murderer! He murdered his poor wife, milady said so, he’s the devil! You’re lying, he will kill me, he’s the devil, the devil from hell!”

With a mighty shove, he threw me down and I slit across the floor, bumping painfully into the wall. My head swam, and all little light there was seemed to vanish entirely.

When my consciousness returned, I felt Beaver’s big hands around my throat.

“I must kill you! Milady commanded me to kill you and I must obey her!”

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Ten

Chapter 10 – Poor, plain, obscure and little

Walking Jane3

It dawned on me that Blanche Ingram, this pretty little doll, this daughter of the aristocracy must be deranged, possibly even mad. The glint in her eyes made run shivers down my spine and, I knew that if I wanted to survive this, I had to be clever. Nobody had any inkling as to my whereabouts because they thought me on an errand. I had not even told Alice Fairfax. Therefore she would not begin to have concerns before dinner time. Edward was still lying prostrated with fever, he would not miss me for several hours. And where was Keithley, the groom? Had he be part of the conspiracy or had he been captured like me? If I wanted answers, my only hope would be to get them from Blanche and she would not tell me willingly. So I opted for a little subterfuge.

With a moan I let myself drop onto my knees which was not difficult since my legs were shaky enough.

“Please, Miss Ingram, I beg of you, please forgive me if I have insulted you in my ignorance. I know I have gone far above my station in marrying Mr. Rochester. I was arrogant where I ought to have been modest. I wanted to become rich because I could no longer bear to be poor. I was a nobody, as you said, and I resented that, so I accepted Mr. Rochester’s proposal.”

I dared to glance at her face after  had kept my eyes low during my supplication.

She was glowing with smug satisfaction, and I knew I was doing well. It was vital to keep her occupied.

“Miss Ingram, I know it is too late for me but what of Mr. Rochester’s groom? Is he injured? It is Mr. Rochester’s favourite man, he will not want to lose him.”

Blanche Ingram scoffed in a very unladylike manner.

“Ha, I am afraid he has lost him for good, governess! Beaver, my helper, had to shoot him after he put up such a vicious struggle. He seems to be rather attached to you, he did not want anybody to touch you. Unfortunately for him, Beaver had his firearm with him and used it, too.”

Only now I noticed the big heavy figure in the back, a real scarecrow of a man, with long, apelike arms, a chest like a beer barrel and muscles like steel cords. His big, shorn head and blunt, mean features did nothing to ease my mind, especially when he started to sneer at me. His teeth were yellow and crooked, his grin positively evil. He must have entered just now because I had not seen him before.

Blanche did not look at him when she asked in a very level voice, “Well? Have you buried the groom and disposed of the curricle, as I ordered?”

The henchman took off his greasy cap and stammered, “No, milady, I haven’t. He’s gone, nowhere to be seen!”

“What? What did you say, you stupid sod?” Blanche barked and again she had nothing ladylike in the least.

Beaver became more nervous by the second, and I wondered what hold Blanche had over this giant of a man to install such fear in him. His stammering increased significantly, and the look in his eyes became almost terrified.

“I … I said … well, milady, … the man has gone … and so has the curricle. There was nothing I could do, milady, please …”

From the now distorted lips of Blanche now escaped a howl of rage, so full of sheer madness that she looked like a wild animal instead of a fine-bred lady. Everyone present, Miss Blackthorn, Beaver and I, we all shivered with genuine fear at the sight of that usually lovely face now contorted by insanity.

“You idiot! You pathetic lunatic! I’ll have you pay for this! Come with me, this instant! We must cover our tracks immediately!”

She turned one last time to me and spat, “Do not think yourself off the hook, governess! When I shall send Beaver back to you, he can do what he likes with you, as long as he kills you in the end.”

Then, a cruel smile curled her mouth and she said dangerously softly, “He has taken a fancy to you, you know? I think I am going to permit him some liberties before he kills you. I might even stay and watch, I have always been curious as to how the lower classes satisfy their needs!”

My stomach heaved and bile rose into my mouth which I barely managed to swallow!

“Make sure she is tied onto the wall, Beaver!” Blanche ordered.

The stinking breath of the man wafted over me when he grabbed me and shackled my left foot onto the wall by means of a chain I had failed to notice before. After that they all left the shed and I was alone.

What now? What was there to be done? My brain seemed paralyzed, numbed, and my body was in an even worse state. I was cold, wet, dirty and extremely hungry. My limbs were trembling from exhaustion. I tried the bonds at my hands but they would not yield.

One small flame of hope was burning in my heart; Keithley had escaped with the curricle. He would surely raise the alarm but would the search party manage to find me? Where was I, for that matter?

Another thought added to my growing despair. How did Edward fare? Had his fever abated? Or not?

I was weeping now, not able to retain my tears of dejection. Would I ever see him again?

 

 

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Nine

Chapter 9 – True colours

Blanche 2

 

I was cooling my heels for more than a quarter of an hour when the drawing door opened to let

Blanche Ingram and Edwina Blackthorn in. I had barely the time to look at the slender, dark-haired young woman with the remarkable green eyes when Miss Ingram exclaimed, “You? What are you doing here? Where’s Edward? We were expecting Edward, not you!””

Her companion turned to her in something of a panic.

“Blanche, we can’t … we mustn’t …”

“Hold your tongue, Edwina! I will do the talking as I am in charge of this!”

In a few strides she was upon me and savagely took my arm, her long nails digging into my flesh.

“You paltry little mouse of an upstart governess, why have you come here? Had I known you would turn up, I would have asked the footmen to throw you out at once! Where’s Edward, answer me!”

She shook my arm and a stab of pain shot through my shoulder, still not recovered from Mason’s manhandling. By now I was furious and I wrestled free of Blanche’s hold.

“You will have to do with me, Miss Ingram! Edward is indisposed and …”

“Indisposed?”, she said in a threatening voice, “How so? What has happened to him?”

“I’m sure that is none of …”

With a shrill cry she slapped me across the face and shoved me so hard that I fell onto one of the settees and violently hit my head against the wooden back.

“Tell me!”, she shouted and as she did so, she didn’t resemble the least of the sophisticated young lady she was supposed to be.

“Edward is in bed with a fever,” I replied, unwilling to give her more information than was necessary.

Miss Blackthorn seemed to have regained some kind of composure by now and laid an imploring hand on Blanche’s arm.

“Please, dear Blanche, recollect yourself. Mrs. Rochester was kind enough to come here and inform us of Mr. Rochester’s illness. We should be thankful for that. Let’s reconsider what is to be done.”

Blanche Ingram looked at her and then, after a few moments, nodded.

“Mrs. Rochester, allow me to present my humblest apologies. I don’t know what came over me. Please find it in your heart to forgive me and accept a restoring cup of tea before you leave.”

While she went to the wall and pulled the bell cord to summon a footman, I studied her covertly. What a turn of mood. Had I not felt my stinging jaw where she had hit me, I would not have believed it had actually happened.

The next half hour passed like in a dream. I drank tea with the pair of them and I was glad to take off afterwards and climb into my waiting curricle. Keithley drove off and we had soon left the premises of Ingram Park to ride homeward through the moors. My head swam with everything that had transpired in that drawing room. I felt strangely dazed as if I was very tired. The usual warm rays of the spring sunshine were like balm to the skin of my upturned face. Lulled by the gentle rocking of the curricle, I dozed off.

Dishevelled Jane

Almighty God, have mercy on me …

I must still be on the Moors for it was very cold. It was night … oh, sweet Lord, I’m begging you, let Death come quickly so that I suffer no more…

Edward … I had fled from Edward because I had no right to be his wife … the memory shot through me like the stab of a spear! Edward was forbidden to me, we would never be together …

Please, Lord, give me rest … let me die now …

 

 

 

A splash of freezing cold water startled me right back into life, and I gasped and spluttered to get my breath.

Blanche Ingram’s bored voice drawled somewhere above my head, “Come on, you lazy bitch, wake up! You there, man, drag her upright. I want her to see me when I talk to her.”

A ruthless hand hauled me onto my feet and propped me against the wall in a not so gentle manner. My already sore shoulders suffered a fresh stab of pain, and I winced. Then I opened my eyes.

I was in some kind of wooden shed or outhouse with an earthen floor and a straw roof. All kinds of rubbish lay across the room, and the smell of rotten hay indicated that it had been used as a stable at some point. My arms were bound behind my back and before me, all elegance and beauty, stood Blanche, a handkerchief pressed against her nose and mouth. My body ached, and I was cold to the bone but I straightened my back and looked her in the eye.

“You troublesome, interfering, lowborn busybody, have you any inkling of how much I loathe and hate you? First you thwart my prospects in marrying Rochester and now you prevent me of taking revenge on him, it is too outrageous! It is insufferable and you will pay for this, you miserable nobody of a governess! You will pay the highest price possible, your life! You will die here today, Jane Eyre, I must have my revenge, I demand it!”

“Blanche …”

Only now I saw the lithe figure of Miss Edwina Blackthorn in the background. She laid her hand on Blanche’s arm in a gesture of supplication.

“Blanche, please, we cannot do this! We must set Mrs. Rochester free and make our apologies to her and Mr. Rochester. There’s already done too much damage and …”

“Shut up, you little coward! I am in charge here and I will have what I want! She dies this instant!”

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Eight

Chapter 8 – Sins of the father

Scowling Rochester2Immediately, 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.

 

Most sincerely,

 

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?

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Seven

Chapter 7 – Edward’s tale

Bertha “After you left, I was a wreck, Jane.”

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.”

Fire

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.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Six

Chapter 6 – Torn by doubt

Rochester's Damaged Face

 

 

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.