Chapter Two – The Master's Wife

It could not have been long before I half woke to the sound of voices in my room. Mr Rochester's voice was unmistakable, the most distinct to me at least. The second took longer to distinguish: it was Mr Carter, the surgeon, who had attended Mr Mason that dreadful night. Presently he spoke some sentences, which my brain could not ascribe to sense.

'Nothing, you say?' questioned Mr Rochester, his voice booming in hopeful and delighted tones. 'Are you quite sure, man?'

'Other than exhaustion,' replied the surgeon, 'nothing threatens her life so long as she remains resting. She will be a little hoarse, but there is no onset of pneumonia: there is no wheezing in the chest. If she had been out there any longer, it would be a different diagnosis: your discovery was timely. She must have plenty of rest and warmth, and nourishment by small degree. Imperatively, no stress. Taking these things into account, she could be back to herself in as little as a fortnight.'

I heard the man's tread walk the room, which sat in the same shade of night, with a dimming fire in the grate.

'I'm much obliged to you, Carter.' The door unclosed. 'I'll see you out.'

'If anything changes, send your man.'

Their voices faded and I fell promptly back to sleep.

When I stirred again it was still dark, and I found I had a little more strength than before. The fire yet glowed across from the foot of my bed, which was strange, because the room had an altogether different layout to my own room (the fireplace had been to one side of my couch). I lifted my head to discover I was in my master's room: in his very bed! And there was my master seated, or slumped, in his high back armchair next to the fire, fully asleep and facing me. I felt the garments about me, discovering that I lay yet in my chemise and petticoat to which my master had stripped me. My heart thumped with some anxiety. I spied a cup of water beside the bed, which I reached with some effort, sipped at, returned in silence, and then calmed myself best I could. I soon resumed my slumber.

Some bustling over me caused me to rouse, but I couldn't yet learn what or who it was. The strong amber glow of daylight prevented me from opening my eyes, but eventually I saw that it was a bright day outside Mr Rochester's window. (I remembered full well where I was, with a pang in my heart of both kindled affection and wary propriety!)

The figure bustling gave off an aroma of freshly baked bread, and appeared small and blurry to my heavy eyes. I then recognised Leah; she stood over the bed straightening the covers with such verve in her movements that watching her alone renewed my fatigue. My body ached and my clouded head pounded. In her arms were my chemise and petticoat that I had been wearing. Now I lay in a clean nightdress.

'Good afternoon, Miss Eyre!' she said quickly on discovering I was awake. She curtseyed. 'Master bade me wash and change you. How do you feel?' She leaned in closer.

'A little better, thank you, Leah.' My voice was hoarse; my breath short. 'How long have I slept?'

'Two full nights, miss. You don't sound well! Do you feel strong enough to eat? Master tried you with some broth, but vowed he had little luck. I brought up a tray with some milk and ham, bread and– don't try to get up, miss! Only sit up, if you can. You'd do better to stay in bed.'

'I have some strength, Leah, and with it I am determined to get in to my own bed.'

'Oh, miss! Master should have woken the house to put you in my bed, or Mrs Fairfax's, or anyone's but his own, to be sure. Only he said in morning he was determined to keep watch over you himself, till the surgeon could attend.'

'But what is wrong with my own bed?'

Leah's eyes went to the floor, and then checked the door to ensure it remained closed.

'The master's wif– that is, the woman resident upstairs, escaped her room and set fire to your bed four nights since. Mrs Fairfax is readying your new bedchamber.'

'She– Mrs Rochester is still upstairs then, with Grace?'

'Yes, miss. I'm so sorry! We none of us knew who she was, and master gave orders never to mention her. Even now he says we're not to speak of her as his wife, but none of us can think differently.'

'Indeed,' thought I. – 'And where is your master, Leah?'

Her head turned to the door, to the sudden sound of approaching feet on the gallery.

'I believe this is he, miss.'

I knew it was he, by his tread – the boldness and sheer energy in those strides. Perhaps I should be annoyed with him for placing me in such an awkward position, by sleeping me in his bed and allowing servants to witness it. But Leah was not stupid and saw how ill I was; she was not cruel-hearted either, and I could only hope wouldn't use this situation for tittle-tattle. As for Mr Rochester, he had saved my life, when I most wished it would be. And perhaps there was no other bed in that moment. Indeed, he had not entered it with me – that I knew, and gave thanks. On this thought of the goodness in his heart, my own lit with delight to see his face any moment. My shrunken stomach doubled over as Mr Rochester knocked impatiently on his own bedchamber door, inquiring in that deep familiar voice, 'Leah, are you finished? May I enter?'

Upon opening it, Leah concurred that she had, adding that I was risen before quickly making away.

My master entered, turning those black orbs to me with concern their main operator. They smiled with a devotion that softened the rest of his fretful face. It was well for me I had not the energy to show or hide the keen pleasure I felt to be with him again. He closed the door behind him and stood there a moment with his hands behind his back and his back against the door, looking refreshed, as if a night or two in an armchair was the best remedy for exhaustion. He stared long and I determined to meet that stare, disembarrassed, even while I sat up against his pillows in a nightdress (I had drawn a shawl about my shoulders, which Leah had left me on the bed).

'How do you do, Jane?'

'I am better, thank you, Mr Rochester.'

'Well that is not the voice of Jane Eyre! With what ancient elf did you exchange it for a morsel of bread in that bog where I found you? You must have done! – no person with meat on their bones could have survived so long with nothing in their stomachs! I saw, Jane, how you took nothing to exchange for food or shelter; the very pearls I made a gift to you, you abandoned, like your pursuer – cruel, cruel deserter, Jane! But I would have found you, my fairy, had you travelled to the moon alone. I was never so far behind you, Jane. The very day you took the omnibus and mislaid your little box. Was it a breadcrumb clue for me to find? The driver informed me that its carrier, under the guise of a troubled mortal, had paid him with every coin she could summon into his hand! So I know you had not a shilling for food!'

He closed his eyes, turning his head towards the fireplace at the other end of the room. Then he advanced and knelt beside the bed.

'Can you ever forgive me, Jane, for driving you away? I am a fool! – I am a fool, Jane, to have rubbed salt in those wounds I inflicted.'

'Do please calm yourself, sir; I am here now, alive and well enough, as you see.' I touched his head, which presently bent towards my lap. 'I was able to procure a little food.'

'How, Jane? What food? Did you sprinkle stardust on the mossy stones and turn them to bread and cheese? Did you breathe incantations on the heather and grow grapes from their nectar?'

'I begged a little bread and porridge, sir.'

He was a proud man and heard this in torment; sheer hunger would have been easier for him to receive.

'Did I drive my Jane to beggary!' He took my hands in both of his. 'Tell me, Janet, truant that you are! Tell me truly – do you intend to run away again?'

'No, sir.'

'That is a fiction! You say that in fear of my next action.'

'It is not a fiction, but the literal truth. You do not desire me to lie? Shall I tell you only what you expect to hear? Look into my eyes, sir– sir?– Edward!'

Here I gained his attention in the form of wide and unfailing eye contact.

'Say it again, Jane! Say it and I shall do whatever you desire, whatever you ask!'

His eyes flashed in a movement of sincerity, presenting me with a sweet excuse to give in. 'Edward! Oh, Edward!' I repeated, before recollecting my good sense and folding my hands in my lap. 'I am a reasonable creature. I hope you will allow me to act as one, and I will in turn believe you to act as one, too. It was impulsive of me to flee, but I felt it a necessity; I felt forced.'

'Oh, Jane!' he cried, resting his arms on the bed as if in prayer. 'I should never have pushed my little darling into a corner. I only intended to have my equal. I shall never force you into anything, if you promise you will not flee?'

'I am determined, sir, to be honest and open with you. It does nothing to be anything else; I have learnt that much. I intend to teach you honesty at least, by way of example. I do not intend to run away again. You may find me another situation, if you insist on that responsibility, or I shall easily undertake the task myself. I say easily and not happily, because to leave you does not make me happy. It is nonetheless necessary for me to detach myself from you. I see you as married, whether you do or not. I am determined never to marry anybody else, ever. Moreover, I shall be no one's mistress but my own. You should know my character well enough by now that to corner me will have the opposite effect to what you desire, and that any attempt to lock me up will devour my sanity, and then all this really would be in vain. You will drive me mad.'

'I'll go to the Devil first!' He sprang up, and making room next to my legs seated himself there. 'I am not in the habit, by the bye, of locking up my subordinates like some depraved Sultan of Turkey. Yet if you doubt my character, Jane, and think me capable of such barbarism, then it is my own fault. I am humbled, Jane. I will not again risk your life! I swear it!'

He took a mug from the tray Leah had brought up.

'Milk, young lady, still warm. Drink!'

'Thank you, sir, but I shall be able to do this much.'

I took the mug from his hands and smiled at him. It felt right to commend his words.

'What happened to "Edward!"' he inquired right away, 'so suddenly returned to "sir"? I want my name on your lips, little wanderer!'

'I told you, Mr Rochester, I am a reasonable creature. I may very well decide that an occasional reward for your good behaviour is appropriate. As I said, I shall teach you, because teaching is something I can do. And it is something you have need of.'

'It is true; you've taught me many a thing and now, like Pilot to me, I am obedient to you. Command me, Miss Eyre, on promise of the occasional treat! A bone, perhaps? A pet on the head? A kiss on the nose?'

'How is Adele and Mrs Fairfax, sir? They've not been in to see me, but I suppose that is your doing?'

'There! That is what I have been taught thus far! This is how I am spoken to by my ward's governess!'

'Then dismiss me, sir.'

'Never! I've something vital to learn yet. – You hardly touch the milk, Jane. Sip it again.'

'Now let me be serious, Mr Rochester. I wish to return to my own room directly. I appreciate your great kindness in giving up your bed, in your care too (instinctively, I took hold of his hand), but you see how I mustn't stay here longer, especially now that Leah has seen I am well enough to move.'

'Yes, yes!' He waved on my protest with one hand, while keeping his other tranquil within my grasp. 'I shall speak to Mrs Fairfax by and by. She has been busy preparing your new apartment. While I am at it, I shall allow that foolish child, Adele, to come singing and dancing in here. She has not stopped asking after you since you abandoned us. You seem surprised, Jane – why is that? Ah! You supposed I had already packed her off to school? Well, I have laid down a good sum for a placement at a respectable institution some miles off. You must not be cross with me, Janet – you yourself have sworn that you will not remain as her governess.'

'Yes, sir.'

'In which case, if you do not remain, and I do not engage a new governess for her, I must send her to school.'

'It is the right action, sir, the only action to take.' I suffered an ache in my chest as I removed my hand from his. He took the indication and stood up slowly, before looking at me long and hard. Breaking his stare, he took up the tray Leah had left and placed it on the bed beside me.

'Now, Miss Eyre,' said he in a new and cheery tone, 'we shall speak no more of farewells to-day. Surgeon's orders. You must eat something; you are vanishing before my very eyes, you witch!'

He smiled and moved towards the door, stopping before it and resting his hand on the doorknob.

'With your permission, Jane,' he said, turning back a moment. 'I should like to visit you once more to-day? To inquire after your health and say goodnight to you, my pale little friend – my truest friend, whom I feared I should never see again.'

'Yes, sir,' I replied impulsively, thinking in that moment that it would not make me happy, nor easy, to wait until to-morrow. He hastily quit the room as if in fear I would change my mind, which I may well have done.

If Mr Rochester had been as passionate, as forceful, as difficult or demanding as he had been the night I resolved to flee Thornfield, I should not have answered him so definitely, so invitingly, and instinctively, 'yes, sir.' – but I found myself in that moment quite at his mercy. He listened to my words and accepted them without a quarrel or remonstration, seeming to have resolved in doing what was right. That very glint of remorse in his eyes; in his words and– and I must rally my senses and strengths, to keep from allowing one moment of weakness in his presence!

Thanks for reading!

P.S. If you do like my ideas and style, then you might like my novel, Halton Cray, which is available on Amazon for a bargain. Inspired by Jane Eyre, it is a contemporary paranormal romance set in a Tudor manor in southeast England.