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by Charlotte Brontë
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes
Charlotte, who first published under the pseudonym Currer Bell, was one of the novelist daughters of Irish churchman Patrick Brontë, of the romantically wild Haworth parsonage in Yorkshire. As well as having produced dozens of TV, stage and ballet versions, the story of Jane Eyre has inspired works as diverse as the Daphne du Maurier's' Rebecca', the 1940's movie 'I Walked with a Zombie', and Jean Rhys' 'Wide Sargasso Sea'.
For more works by the Brontës, see The Index
Thornfield, my new home after I left school, was, I found, a fine old battlemented hall, and Mrs. Fairfax, who had answered my advertisement, a mild, elderly lady, related by marriage to Mr. Rochester, the owner of the estate and the guardian of Adela Varens, my little pupil.
It was not till three months after my arrival there that my adventures began. One day Mrs. Fairfax proposed to show me over the house, much of which was unoccupied. The third storey especially had the aspect of a home of the past- a shrine of memory. I liked its hush and quaintness.
"If there were a ghost at Thornfield Hall this would be its haunt," said Mrs. Fairfax, as we passed the range of apartments on our way to see the view from the roof.
I was pacing through the corridor of the third floor on my return, when the last sound I expected in so still a region struck my ear-a laugh, distinct, formal, mirthless. At first it was very low, but it passed off in a clamorous peal that seemed to wake an echo in every lonely chamber.
"Mrs. Fairfax," I called out, "did you hear that laugh? Who is it?"
"Some of the servants very likely," she answered; "perhaps Grace Poole."
The laugh was repeated in a low tone, and terminated in an odd murmur.
"Grace!" exclaimed Mrs. Fairfax.
I didn't expect Grace to answer, for the laugh was preternatural.
Nevertheless, the door nearest me opened, and a servant came out-a set, square-made figure, with a hard, plain face.
"Too much noise, Grace," said Mrs. Fairfax. "Remember directions!"
Grace curtseyed silently, and went in.
Not unfrequently after that I heard Grace Poole's laugh and her eccentric murmurs, stranger than her laugh.
Late one fine, calm afternoon in January I volunteered to carry to the post at Hay, two miles distant, a letter Mrs. Fairfax had just written. The lane to Hay inclined uphill all the way, and having reached the middle, I sat on a stile till the sun went down, and on the hill-top above me stood the rising moon. The village was a mile distant, but in the absolute hush I could hear plainly its murmurs of life.
A rude noise broke on the fine ripplings and whisperings of the evening calm, a metallic clatter, a horse was coming. The windings of the lane hid it as it approached. Then I heard a rush under the hedge, and close by glided a great dog, not staying to look up. The horse followed- a tall steed, and on its back a rider. He passed; a sliding sound, a clattering tumble, and man and horse were down. They had slipped on the sheet of ice which glased the causeway. The dog came bounding back, sniffed round the prostrate group, and then ran up to me; it was all he could do. I obeyed him, and walked down to the traveller struggling himself free of his steed. I think he was swearing, but am not certain.
"Can I do anything?" I asked.
"You can stand on one side," he answered as he rose. Whereupon began a heaving, stamping process, accompanied by a barking and baying, and the horse was re-established and the dog silenced with a "Down, Pilot!"
"If you are hurt and want help, sir," I remarked, "I can fetch someone, either from Thornfield Hall or from Hay."
"Thank you, I shall do. I have no broken bones, only a sprain." And he limped to the stile.
He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow. His eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted; he was past youth, but had not reached middle age-perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him and but little shyness. His frown and roughness set me at ease.
He waved me to go, but I said:
"I cannot think of leaving you in this solitary lane till you are fit to mount your horse."
"You ought to be at home yourself," said he. "Where do you come from?"
"From just below."
"Do you mean that house with the battlements?"
"Whose house is it?"
"Do you know Mr. Rochester?"
"No, I have never seen him."
"You are not a servant at the Hall, of course. You are-"
"I am the governess."
"Ah, the governess!" he repeated. "Deuce take me if I had not forgotten! Excuse me," he continued, "necessity compels me to make you useful."
He laid a heavy hand on my shoulder, limped to his horse, caught the bridle, and, grimacing grimly, sprang into the saddle and, with a "Thank you," bounded away.
When I returned from Hay, after posting Mrs. Fairfax's letter, I went to her room. She was not there, but sitting upright on the rug was a great black-and-white long-haired dog. I went forward and said, "Pilot," and the thing got up, came to me, sniffed me, and wagged his great tail. I rang the bell.
"What dog is this?"
"He came with master, who has just arrived. He has had an accident, and his ankle is sprained."
The next day I was summoned to take tea with Mr. Rochester and my pupil. When I entered he was looking at Adela, who knelt on the hearth beside Pilot.
"Here is Miss Eyre, sir," said Mrs. Fairfax, in her quiet way.
Mr. Rochester bowed, still not taking his eyes from the group of the dog and the child.
I sat down, disembarrassed. Politeness might have confused me; caprice laid me under no obligation.
Mrs. Fairfax seemed to think someone should be amiable, and she began to talk.
"Madam, I should like some tea," was the sole rejoinder she got.
"Come to the fire," said the master, when the tray was taken away. "When you came on me in Hay lane last night I thought unaccountably of fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse. I am not sure yet. Who are your parents?"
"I have none."
"I thought not. And so you were waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?"
"For whom, sir?"
"For the men in green. Did I break through one of your rings that you spread that ice on the causeway?"
I shook my head.
"The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago. I don't think either summer or harvest or winter moon will ever shine on their revels more."
Mrs. Fairfax dropped her knitting, wondering what sort of talk this was, and remarked that Miss Eyre had been a kind and careful teacher.
"Don't trouble yourself to give her a character," returned Mr. Rochester. "I shall judge for myself. She began by felling my horse."
"You said Mr. Rochester was not peculiar, Mrs. Fairfax," I remonstrated, when I rejoined her in her room after putting Adela to bed.
After a time my master's manner towards me changed. It became more uniform. I never seemed in his way. He did not take fits of chilling hauteur. When he met me, the encounter seemed welcome; he always had a word, and sometimes a smile. I felt at times as if he were my relation rather than my master, and so happy did I become that the blanks of existence were filled up. He had now been resident eight weeks, though Mrs. Fairfax said he seldom stayed at the Hall longer than a fortnight.
One night, I hardly know whether I had been sleeping or musing, I started wide awake on hearing a vague murmur, peculiar and lugubrious. It ceased, but my heart beat anxiously; my inward tranquillity was broken. The clock, far down in the hall, struck two. Just then my chamber-door was touched as if fingers swept the panels groping a way along the dark gallery outside. I was chilled with fear. Then I remembered that it might be Pilot, and the idea calmed me. But it was fated I should not sleep that night, for at the very keyhole of my chamber, as it seemed, a demoniac laugh was uttered. My first impulse was to rise and fasten the bolt, my next to cry: "Who is there?" Ere long steps retreated up the gallery towards the third floor staircase, and then all was still.
"Was it Grace Poole?" thought I. I hurried on my frock, and with a trembling hand opened the door. There, burning outside, left on the matting of the gallery, was a candle; and the air was filled with smoke, which rushed in a cloud from Mr. Rochester's room. In an instant I was within the chamber. Tongues of fire darted round the bed; the curtains were on fire, and in the midst lay Mr. Rochester, in deep sleep. I shook him, but he seemed stupefied. Then I rushed to his basin and ewer, and deluged the bed with water. He woke with the cry: "Is there a flood? What is it?"
I briefly related what had transpired. He was now in his dressing-gown, and, warning me to stay where I was and call no one, he added: "I must pay a visit to the third floor." A long time elapsed ere he returned, pale and gloomy.
"I have found it all out," said he; "it is as I thought. You are no talking fool. Say nothing about it."
He held out his hand as we parted. I gave him mine; he took it in both his own.
"You have saved my life. I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt. I feel your benefits no burden, Jane."
Strange energy was in his voice, strange fire in his look.
Till morning I was tossed on a buoyant, but unquiet sea. In the morning I heard the servants exclaim how providential that master thought of the water-jug when he had left the candle alight; and passing the room, I saw, sewing rings on the new curtains, no other than-Grace Poole.
Company now came to the hall, including the beautiful Miss Ingram, whom rumour associated with Mr. Rochester, as I heard from Mrs. Fairfax.
One day Mr. Rochester had been called away from home, and on his return, as I was the first inmate of the house to meet him, I remarked: "Oh, are you aware, Mr. Rochester, that a stranger has arrived since you left this morning?"
"A stranger! no; I expected no one; did he give his name?"
"His name is Mason, sir, and he comes from the West Indies."
Mr. Rochester was standing near me, and as I spoke he gave my wrist a convulsive grip, while a spasm caught his breath, and he turned whiter than ashes.
"Do you feel ill, sir?" I inquired.
"Jane, I've got a blow; I've got a blow, Jane!" he staggered.
Then he sat down and made me sit beside him.
"My little friend," said he, "I wish I were in a quiet island with only you; and trouble and danger and hideous recollections were removed from me."
"Can I help you, sir? I'd give my life to serve you."
"Jane, if aid is wanted, I'll seek it at your hands."
"Thank you, sir; tell me what to do."
"Go back into the room; step quietly up to Mason, tell him Mr. Rochester has come and wishes to see him; show him in here, and then leave me."
At a late hour that night I heard the visitors repair to their chambers and Mr. Rochester saying: "This way, Mason; this is your room."
He spoke cheerfully, and the gay tones set my heart at ease.
Awaking in the dead of night I stretched my hand to draw the curtain, for the moon was full and bright. Good God! What a cry! The night was rent in twain by a savage, shrilly sound that ran from end to end of Thornfield Hall.
The cry died and was not renewed. Indeed, whatever being uttered that fearful shriek could not soon repeat it; not the widest-winged condor on the Andes could, twice in succession, send out such a yell from the cloud shrouding his eyrie.
It came out of the third storey. And overhead-yes, in the room just above my chamber, I heard a deadly struggle, and a half-smothered voice shout, "Help! help!"
A chamber door opened; someone rushed along the gallery. Another step stamped on the floor above, and something fell. Then there was silence.
The sleepers were all aroused and gathered in the gallery, which but for the moonlight would have been in complete darkness. The door at the end of the gallery opened, and Mr. Rochester advanced with a candle. He had just descended from the upper storey.
"All's right!" he cried. "A servant has had a nightmare, that is all, and has taken a fit with fright. Now I must see you all back to your rooms." And so by dint of coaxing and commanding he contrived to get them back to their dormitories.
I retreated unnoticed and dressed myself carefully to be ready for emergencies. About an hour passed, and then a cautious hand tapped low at my door.
"Are you up and dressed?"
"Then come out quietly."
Mr. Rochester stood in the gallery holding a light.
"Bring a sponge and some volatile salts," said he.
I did so, and followed him.
"You don't turn sick at the sight of blood?"
"I think not; I have never been tried yet."
We entered a room with an inner apartment, from whence came a snarling, snatching sound. Mr. Rochester went forward into this apartment, and a shout of laughter greeted his entrance. Grace Poole, then, was there. When he came out he closed the door behind him.
"Here, Jane!" he said.
I walked round to the other side of the large bed in the outer room, and there, in an easy-chair, his head leaned back, I recognised the pale and seemingly lifeless face of the stranger, Mason. His linen on one side and one arm was almost soaked in blood.
Mr. Rochester took the sponge, dipped it in water, moistened the corpse-like face, and applied my smelling-bottle to the nostrils.
Mr. Mason unclosed his eyes and murmured: "Is there immediate danger?"
"Pooh!- a mere scratch! I'll fetch a surgeon now, and you'll be able to be removed by the morning."
"Jane," he continued, "you'll sponge the blood when it returns, and put your salts to his nose; and you'll not speak to him on any pretext- and, Richard, it will be at the peril of your life if you speak to her."
Two hours later the surgeon came and removed the injured man.
In the morning I heard Rochester in the yard, saying to some of the visitors, "Mason got the start of you all this morning; he was gone before sunrise. I rose to see him off."
A splendid midsummer shone over England. In the sweetest hour of the twenty-four, after the sun had gone down in simple state, and dew fell cool on the panting plain, I had walked into the orchard, to the giant horse-chestnut, near the sunk fence that separates the Hall grounds from the lonely fields, when there came to me the warning fragrance of Mr. Rochester's cigar. I was about to retreat when he intercepted me, and said: "Turn back, Jane; on so lovely a night it is a shame to sit in the house." I did not like to walk alone with my master at this hour in the shadowy orchard, but could find no reason for leaving him.
"Jane," he recommenced, as we slowly strayed down in the direction of the horse-chestnut, "Thornfield is a pleasant place in summer, is it not?"
"And you must have become in some degree attached to it?"
"I am attached to it, indeed."
"Pity!" he said, and paused.
"Must I move on, sir?" I asked.
"I believe you must, Jane."
This was a blow, but I did not let it prostrate me.
"Then you are going to be married, sir?"
"In about a month I hope to be a bridegroom. We have been good friends, Jane, have we not?"
"Here is the chestnut-tree; come, we will sit here in peace to-night." He seated me and himself.
"Jane, do you hear the nightingale singing in the wood? Listen!"
In listening, I sobbed convulsively, for I could repress what I endured no longer, and when I did speak, it was only to express an impetuous wish that I had never been born, or never come to Thornfield.
"Because you are sorry to leave it?"
The vehemence of emotion was claiming mastery, and struggling for full sway-to overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last; yes-and to speak.
"I grieve to leave Thornfield. I love Thornfield, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life. I have not been trampled on; I have not been petrified. I have talked face to face with what I delight in-an original, a vigorous and expanded mind. I have known you, Mr. Rochester. I see the necessity of departure, but it is like looking on the necessity of death."
"Where do you see the necessity?" he asked suddenly.
"Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?" I retorted, roused to something like passion. "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you- and full as much heart! I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even mortal flesh. It is my spirit that addresses your spirit, just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal- as we are!"
"As we are!" repeated Mr. Rochester, gathering me to his heart and pressing his lips on my lips. "So, Jane!"
"Yes, so, sir!" I replied. "I have spoken my mind, and can go anywhere now. Let me go!"
"Jane, be still; don't struggle so, like a wild, frantic bird, rending its own plumage in its desperation."
"I am no bird, and no net ensnares me. I am a free human being, with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you."
Another effort set me at liberty, and I stood erect before him.
"And your will shall decide your destiny," he said. "I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share in all my possessions."
A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel walk and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut; it wandered away-away to an infinite distance-it died. The nightingale's song was then the only voice of the hour; in listening to it again, I wept.
Mr. Rochester sat looking at me gently, and at last said, drawing me to him again: "My bride is here, because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me? Give me my name- Edward. Say, 'I will marry you.'"
"Are you in earnest? Do you love me? Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?"
"I do. I swear it!"
"Then, sir, I will marry you."
"God pardon me, and man meddle not with me. I have her, and will hold her!"
But what had befallen the night? And what ailed the chestnut-tree? It writhed and groaned, while the wind roared in the laurel walk.
"We must go in," said Mr. Rochester; "the weather changes."
He hurried me up the walk, but we were wet before we could pass the threshold.
There were no groomsmen, no bridesmaids, no relatives to wait for or marshal; none but Mr. Rochester and I. I wonder what other bridegroom looked as he did- so bent up to a purpose, so resolutely grim. Our place was taken at the communion rails. All was still; two shadows only moved in a remote corner of the church.
As the clergyman's lips unclosed to ask, "Wilt thou have this woman for thy wedded wife?" a distinct and near voice said: "The marriage cannot go on. I declare the existence of an impediment."
"What is the nature of the impediment?" asked the clergyman.
"It simply consists in the existence of a previous marriage," said the speaker. "Mr. Rochester has a wife now living."
My nerves vibrated to those low-spoken words as they had never vibrated to thunder. I looked at Mr. Rochester; I made him look at me. His face was colourless rock; his eye both spark and flint; he seemed as if he would defy all things.
"Mr. Mason, have the goodness to step forward," said the stranger.
"Are you aware, sir, whether or not this gentleman's wife is still living?" inquired the clergyman.
"She is now living at Thornfield Hall," said Mason, with white lips. "I saw her there last April. I am her brother."
I saw a grim smile contract Mr. Rochester's lip.
"Enough," said he. "Wood"- to the clergyman-"close your book; John Green"- to the clerk- "leave the church; there will be no wedding to-day."
"Bigamy is an ugly word," he continued, "but I meant to be a bigamist. This girl thought all was fair and legal, and never dreamt she was going to be entrapped into a feigned union with a defrauded wretch already bound to a bad, mad, and embruted partner. Follow me. I invite you all to visit Grace Poole's patient and my wife!"
We passed up to the third storey, and there, in the deep shade of the inner room beyond the room where I had watched over the wounded Mason, ran backward and forward, seemingly on all fours, a figure, whether beast or human one could not at first sight tell. It snatched and growled like some wild animal. It was covered with clothing; but a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.
"That is my wife," said Mr. Rochester, "whom I was cheated into marrying fifteen years ago- a mad woman and a drunkard, of a family of idiots and maniacs for three generations. And this is what I wished to have"- laying his hand on my shoulder- "this young girl who stands so grave and quiet, at the mouth of hell. Jane," he continued, in an agonised tone, "I never meant to wound you thus."
Reader! I forgave him at the moment, and on the spot. I forgave him all; yet not in words, not outwardly; only at my heart's core.
That night I never thought to sleep, but a slumber fell on me as soon as I lay down in bed, and in my sleep a vision spoke to my spirit: "Daughter, flee temptation!" I rose with the dim dawn. One word comprised my intolerable duty- Depart!
After three days wandering and starvation on the north-midland moors, for hastily and secretly I had travelled by coach as far from Thornfield as my money would carry me, I found a temporary home at the vicarage of Morton, until the clergyman of that moorland parish, Mr. St. John Rivers, secured for me- under the assumed name of Jane Elliott- the mistresship of the village school.
At Christmas I left the school. As the spring advanced St. John Rivers, who, with an icy heroism, was possessed by the idea of becoming a missionary, urged me strongly to accompany him to India as his wife, on the grounds that I was docile, diligent, and courageous, and would be very useful. I felt such veneration for him that I was tempted to cease struggling with him-to rush down the torrent of his will into the gulf of his existence, and there lose my own.
The time came when he called on me to decide. I fervently longed to do what was right, and only that. "Show me the path, show me the path!" I entreated of Heaven.
My heart beat fast and thick; I heard its throb. Suddenly it stood still to an inexpressible feeling that thrilled it through. My senses rose expectant; ear and eye waited, while the flesh quivered on my bones. I saw nothing; but I heard a voice, somewhere, cry "Jane! Jane! Jane!"- nothing more.
"Oh, God! What is it?" I gasped. I might have said, "Where is it?" for it did not seem in the room, nor in the house, nor in the garden, nor from overhead. And it was the voice of a human being- a loved, well-remembered voice- that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently.
"I am coming!" I cried. "Wait for me!" I ran out into the garden; it was void.
"Down, superstition!" I commented, as that spectre rose up black by the black yew at the gate.
I mounted to my chamber, locked myself in, fell on my knees, and seemed to penetrate very near a Mighty Spirit; and my soul rushed out in gratitude at His feet.
Then I rose from the thanksgiving, took a resolve, and lay down, unscared, enlightened, eager but for the daylight.
Thirty-six hours later I was crossing the fields to where I could see the full front of my master's mansion, and, looking with a timorous joy, saw-a blackened ruin.
Where, meantime, was the hapless owner?
I returned to the inn, where the host himself, a respectable middle-aged man, brought my breakfast into the parlour. I scarcely knew how to begin my questions.
"Is Mr. Rochester living at Thornfield Hall now?"
"No, ma'am-oh, no! No one is living there. It was burnt down about harvest time. The fire broke out at dead of night."
"Was it known how it originated?"
"They guessed, ma'am; they guessed. There was a lady- a- a lunatic kept in the house. She had a woman to take care of her called Mrs. Poole, an able woman but for one fault- she kept a private bottle of gin by her; and the mad lady would take the keys out of her pocket, let herself out of her chamber, and go roaming about the house doing any wild mischief that came into her head. Mr. Rochester was at home when the fire broke out, and he went up to the attics and got the servants out of their beds, and then went back to get his mad wife out of her cell. And then they called out to him that she was on the roof, where she was waving her arms and shouting till they could hear her a mile off. She was a big woman, and had long, black hair; and we could see it streaming against the flames as she stood. We saw Mr. Rochester approach her and call 'Bertha!' And then, ma'am, she yelled and gave a spring, and the next minute lay dead, smashed on the pavement."
"Were any other lives lost?"
"No. Perhaps it would have been better if there had. Poor Mr. Edward! He is stone-blind."
I had dreaded he was mad.
"As he came down the great staircase it fell, and he was taken out of the ruins with one eye knocked out and one hand so crushed that the surgeon had to amputate it directly. The other eye inflamed, and he lost the sight of that also."
"Where does he live now?"
"At Ferndean, a manor house on a farm he has- quite a desolate spot. Old John and his wife are with him; he would have none else."
To Ferndean I came just ere dusk, walking the last mile. As I approached, the narrow front door of the grange slowly opened, and a figure came out into the twilight; a man without a hat. He stretched forth his hand to feel whether it rained. It was my master, Edward Fairfax Rochester.
He groped his way back to the house, and, re-entering it, closed the door. I now drew near and knocked, and John's wife opened for me.
"Mary," I said, "how are you?"
She started as if she had seen a ghost. I calmed her, and followed her into the kitchen, where I explained in a few words that I should stay for the night, and that John must fetch my trunk from the turnpike house. At this moment the parlour bell rang.
Mary proceeded to fill a glass with water and place it on a tray, together with candles.
"Give the tray to me; I will carry it in."
The old dog Pilot pricked up his ears as I entered the room; then he jumped up with a yelp, and bounded towards me, almost knocking the tray from my hands.
"What is the matter?" inquired Mr. Rochester.
He put out his hand with a quick gesture. "Who is this?" he demanded imperiously.
"Will you have a little more water, sir? I spilt half of what was in the glass," I said.
"What is it? Who speaks?"
"Pilot knows me, and John and Mary know I am here," I answered.
He groped, and, arresting his wandering hand, I prisoned it in both mine.
"Her very fingers! Her small, slight fingers! Is it Jane-Jane Eyre?" he cried.
"My dear master, I am Jane Eyre. I have found you out; I am come back to you!"
Reader, I married him.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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