chapter twenty six of jane eyrethis is a librivox recording. all librivox recordings are in the publicdomain. for more information or to volunteer pleasevisit librivox.org recording by elizabeth klettjane eyre by charlotte brontã‹ chapter twenty six
delay ejeculation, sophie came at seven to dress me: she wasvery long indeed in accomplishing her task; so long that mr. rochester,grown, i suppose, impatient of my delay, sent up to ask whyi did not come. she was just fastening my veil (the plain square of blondafter all) to my hair with a
brooch; i hurried from under her hands assoon as i could. "stop!" she cried in french. "look at yourselfin the mirror: you have not taken one peep." so i turned at the door: i saw a robed andveiled figure, so unlike my usual self that it seemed almost the imageof a stranger. "jane!" called a voice, and i hastened down. i was receivedat the foot of the stairs by mr. rochester. "lingerer!" he said, "my brain is on firewith impatience, and you tarry so long!"
he took me into the dining-room, surveyedme keenly all over, pronounced me "fair as a lily, and not only the prideof his life, but the desire of his eyes," and then telling me he would giveme but ten minutes to eat some breakfast, he rang the bell. one of hislately hired servants, a footman, answered it. "is john getting the carriage ready?" "yes, sir." "is the luggage brought down?" "they are bringing it down, sir."
"go you to the church: see if mr. wood (theclergyman) and the clerk are there: return and tell me." the church, as the reader knows, was but justbeyond the gates; the footman soon returned. "mr. wood is in the vestry, sir, putting onhis surplice." "and the carriage?" "the horses are harnessing." "we shall not want it to go to church; butit must be ready the moment we return: all the boxes and luggage arrangedand strapped on, and the
coachman in his seat." "jane, are you ready?" i rose. there were no groomsmen, no bridesmaids,no relatives to wait for or marshal: none but mr. rochester andi. mrs. fairfax stood in the hall as we passed. i would fain have spokento her, but my hand was held by a grasp of iron: i was hurried alongby a stride i could hardly follow; and to look at mr. rochester's facewas to feel that not a second of delay would be tolerated for any purpose.i wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did--so bentup to a purpose, so grimly
resolute: or who, under such steadfast brows,ever revealed such flaming and flashing eyes. i know not whether the day was fair or foul;in descending the drive, i gazed neither on sky nor earth: my heart waswith my eyes; and both seemed migrated into mr. rochester's frame.i wanted to see the invisible thing on which, as we went along,he appeared to fasten a glance fierce and fell. i wanted to feel thethoughts whose force he seemed breasting and resisting. at the churchyard wicket he stopped: he discoveredi was quite out of
breath. "am i cruel in my love?" he said."delay an instant: lean on me, jane." and now i can recall the picture of the greyold house of god rising calm before me, of a rook wheeling round the steeple,of a ruddy morning sky beyond. i remember something, too, of thegreen grave-mounds; and i have not forgotten, either, two figures of strangersstraying amongst the low hillocks and reading the mementoes gravenon the few mossy head-stones. i noticed them, because, as they saw us, theypassed round to the back of the church; and i doubted not they were goingto enter by the side-aisle
door and witness the ceremony. by mr. rochesterthey were not observed; he was earnestly looking at my face from whichthe blood had, i daresay, momentarily fled: for i felt my forehead dewy,and my cheeks and lips cold. when i rallied, which i soon did, hewalked gently with me up the path to the porch. we entered the quiet and humble temple; thepriest waited in his white surplice at the lowly altar, the clerk besidehim. all was still: two shadows only moved in a remote corner. myconjecture had been correct: the strangers had slipped in before us, andthey now stood by the vault
of the rochesters, their backs towards us,viewing through the rails the old time-stained marble tomb, where a kneelingangel guarded the remains of damer de rochester, slain at marston moorin the time of the civil wars, and of elizabeth, his wife. our place was taken at the communion rails.hearing a cautious step behind me, i glanced over my shoulder: oneof the strangers--a gentleman, evidently--was advancing up the chancel. theservice began. the explanation of the intent of matrimony wasgone through; and then the clergyman came a step further forward, and,bending slightly towards mr.
rochester, went on. "i require and charge you both (as ye willanswer at the dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shallbe disclosed), that if either of you know any impediment why ye maynot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it;for be ye well assured that so many as are coupled together otherwisethan god's word doth allow, are not joined together by god, neither is theirmatrimony lawful." he paused, as the custom is. when is the pauseafter that sentence ever broken by reply? not, perhaps, once in a hundredyears. and the
clergyman, who had not lifted his eyes fromhis book, and had held his breath but for a moment, was proceeding: hishand was already stretched towards mr. rochester, as his lips unclosedto ask, "wilt thou have this woman for thy wedded wife?"--when a distinctand near voice said-- "the marriage cannot go on: i declare theexistence of an impediment." the clergyman looked up at the speaker andstood mute; the clerk did the same; mr. rochester moved slightly, as ifan earthquake had rolled under his feet: taking a firmer footing, and notturning his head or eyes, he said, "proceed."
profound silence fell when he had utteredthat word, with deep but low intonation. presently mr. wood said-- "i cannot proceed without some investigationinto what has been asserted, and evidence of its truth or falsehood." "the ceremony is quite broken off," subjoinedthe voice behind us. "i am in a condition to prove my allegation: aninsuperable impediment to this marriage exists." mr. rochester heard, but heeded not: he stoodstubborn and rigid, making no movement but to possess himself of my hand.what a hot and strong
grasp he had! and how like quarried marblewas his pale, firm, massive front at this moment! how his eye shone, stillwatchful, and yet wild beneath! mr. wood seemed at a loss. "what is the natureof the impediment?" he asked. "perhaps it may be got over--explainedaway?" "hardly," was the answer. "i have called itinsuperable, and i speak advisedly." the speaker came forward and leaned on therails. he continued, uttering each word distinctly, calmly, steadily, butnot loudly--
"it simply consists in the existence of aprevious marriage. mr. rochester has a wife now living." my nerves vibrated to those low-spoken wordsas they had never vibrated to thunder--my blood felt their subtle violenceas it had never felt frost or fire; but i was collected, and inno danger of swooning. i looked at mr. rochester: i made him look atme. his whole face was colourless rock: his eye was both spark andflint. he disavowed nothing: he seemed as if he would defy all things.without speaking, without smiling, without seeming to recognise in mea human being, he only twined
my waist with his arm and riveted me to hisside. "who are you?" he asked of the intruder. "my name is briggs, a solicitor of --- street,london." "and you would thrust on me a wife?" "i would remind you of your lady's existence,sir, which the law recognises, if you do not." "favour me with an account of her--with hername, her parentage, her place of abode." "certainly." mr. briggs calmly took a paperfrom his pocket, and read
out in a sort of official, nasal voice:-- "'i affirm and can prove that on the 20thof october a.d. --- (a date of fifteen years back), edward fairfax rochester,of thornfield hall, in the county of ---, and of ferndean manor, in ---shire,england, was married to my sister, bertha antoinetta mason, daughterof jonas mason, merchant, and of antoinetta his wife, a creole, at --- church,spanish town, jamaica. the record of the marriage will befound in the register of that church--a copy of it is now in my possession.signed, richard mason.'"
"that--if a genuine document--may prove ihave been married, but it does not prove that the woman mentioned thereinas my wife is still living." "she was living three months ago," returnedthe lawyer. "how do you know?" "i have a witness to the fact, whose testimonyeven you, sir, will scarcely controvert." "produce him--or go to hell." "i will produce him first--he is on the spot.mr. mason, have the goodness to step forward."
mr. rochester, on hearing the name, set histeeth; he experienced, too, a sort of strong convulsive quiver; near tohim as i was, i felt the spasmodic movement of fury or despair runthrough his frame. the second stranger, who had hitherto lingered in thebackground, now drew near; a pale face looked over the solicitor's shoulder--yes,it was mason himself. mr. rochester turned and glared athim. his eye, as i have often said, was a black eye: it had now atawny, nay, a bloody light in its gloom; and his face flushed--olive cheekand hueless forehead received a glow as from spreading, ascendingheart-fire: and he stirred,
lifted his strong arm--he could have struckmason, dashed him on the church-floor, shocked by ruthless blow thebreath from his body--but mason shrank away, and cried faintly, "goodgod!" contempt fell cool on mr. rochester--his passion died as if a blighthad shrivelled it up: he only asked--"what have _you_ to say?" an inaudible reply escaped mason's white lips. "the devil is in it if you cannot answer distinctly.i again demand, what have you to say?" "sir--sir," interrupted the clergyman, "donot forget you are in a sacred
place." then addressing mason, he inquiredgently, "are you aware, sir, whether or not this gentleman's wife is stillliving?" "courage," urged the lawyer,--"speak out." "she is now living at thornfield hall," saidmason, in more articulate tones: "i saw her there last april. i am herbrother." "at thornfield hall!" ejaculated the clergyman."impossible! i am an old resident in this neighbourhood, sir, andi never heard of a mrs. rochester at thornfield hall." i saw a grim smile contort mr. rochester'slips, and he muttered--
"no, by god! i took care that none shouldhear of it--or of her under that name." he mused--for ten minutes he heldcounsel with himself: he formed his resolve, and announced it-- "enough! all shall bolt out at once, likethe bullet from the barrel. wood, close your book and take off your surplice;john green (to the clerk), leave the church: there will be nowedding to-day." the man obeyed. mr. rochester continued, hardily and recklessly:"bigamy is an ugly word!--i meant, however, to be a bigamist;but fate has out-manoeuvred
me, or providence has checked me,--perhapsthe last. i am little better than a devil at this moment; and, as my pastorthere would tell me, deserve no doubt the sternest judgments ofgod, even to the quenchless fire and deathless worm. gentlemen, my planis broken up:--what this lawyer and his client say is true: i havebeen married, and the woman to whom i was married lives! you say you neverheard of a mrs. rochester at the house up yonder, wood; but i daresay youhave many a time inclined your ear to gossip about the mysterious lunatickept there under watch and ward. some have whispered to you thatshe is my bastard half-sister:
some, my cast-off mistress. i now inform youthat she is my wife, whom i married fifteen years ago,--bertha mason byname; sister of this resolute personage, who is now, with his quiveringlimbs and white cheeks, showing you what a stout heart men may bear. cheerup, dick!--never fear me!--i'd almost as soon strike a woman as you. berthamason is mad; and she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs throughthree generations! her mother, the creole, was both a madwoman anda drunkard!--as i found out after i had wed the daughter: for they weresilent on family secrets before. bertha, like a dutiful child, copiedher parent in both points.
i had a charming partner--pure, wise, modest:you can fancy i was a happy man. i went through rich scenes! oh! my experiencehas been heavenly, if you only knew it! but i owe you no furtherexplanation. briggs, wood, mason, i invite you all to come up tothe house and visit mrs. poole's patient, and _my wife_! you shallsee what sort of a being i was cheated into espousing, and judge whetheror not i had a right to break the compact, and seek sympathy with somethingat least human. this girl," he continued, looking at me, "knewno more than you, wood, of the disgusting secret: she thought all was fairand legal and never dreamt
she was going to be entrapped into a feignedunion with a defrauded wretch, already bound to a bad, mad, and embrutedpartner! come all of you--follow!" still holding me fast, he left the church:the three gentlemen came after. at the front door of the hall we foundthe carriage. "take it back to the coach-house, john," saidmr. rochester coolly; "it will not be wanted to-day." at our entrance, mrs. fairfax, adele, sophie,leah, advanced to meet and greet us.
"to the right-about--every soul!" cried themaster; "away with your congratulations! who wants them? not i!--theyare fifteen years too late!" he passed on and ascended the stairs, stillholding my hand, and still beckoning the gentlemen to follow him, whichthey did. we mounted the first staircase, passed up the gallery, proceededto the third storey: the low, black door, opened by mr. rochester'smaster-key, admitted us to the tapestried room, with its great bed andits pictorial cabinet. "you know this place, mason," said our guide;"she bit and stabbed you
here." he lifted the hangings from the wall, uncoveringthe second door: this, too, he opened. in a room without a window,there burnt a fire guarded by a high and strong fender, and a lamp suspendedfrom the ceiling by a chain. grace poole bent over the fire, apparentlycooking something in a saucepan. in the deep shade, at the fartherend of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. what it was, whetherbeast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled,seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strangewild animal: but it was
covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark,grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face. "good-morrow, mrs. poole!" said mr. rochester."how are you? and how is your charge to-day?" "we're tolerable, sir, i thank you," repliedgrace, lifting the boiling mess carefully on to the hob: "rather snappish,but not 'rageous." a fierce cry seemed to give the lie to herfavourable report: the clothed hyena rose up, and stood tall on its hind-feet. "ah! sir, she sees you!" exclaimed grace:"you'd better not stay."
"only a few moments, grace: you must allowme a few moments." "take care then, sir!--for god's sake, takecare!" the maniac bellowed: she parted her shaggylocks from her visage, and gazed wildly at her visitors. i recognisedwell that purple face,--those bloated features. mrs. poole advanced. "keep out of the way," said mr. rochester,thrusting her aside: "she has no knife now, i suppose, and i'm on my guard." "one never knows what she has, sir: she isso cunning: it is not in mortal discretion to fathom her craft."
"we had better leave her," whispered mason. "go to the devil!" was his brother-in-law'srecommendation. "'ware!" cried grace. the three gentlemenretreated simultaneously. mr. rochester flung me behind him: the lunaticsprang and grappled his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his cheek:they struggled. she was a big woman, in stature almost equalling herhusband, and corpulent besides: she showed virile force in the contest--morethan once she almost throttled him, athletic as he was.he could have settled her with a well-planted blow; but he would not strike:he would only wrestle. at
last he mastered her arms; grace poole gavehim a cord, and he pinioned them behind her: with more rope, which wasat hand, he bound her to a chair. the operation was performed amidstthe fiercest yells and the most convulsive plunges. mr. rochester thenturned to the spectators: he looked at them with a smile both acrid anddesolate. "that is _my wife_," said he. "such is thesole conjugal embrace i am ever to know--such are the endearments whichare to solace my leisure hours! and _this_ is what i wished to have"(laying his hand on my shoulder): "this young girl, who stands sograve and quiet at the mouth
of hell, looking collectedly at the gambolsof a demon, i wanted her just as a change after that fierce ragout. woodand briggs, look at the difference! compare these clear eyes withthe red balls yonder--this face with that mask--this form with that bulk;then judge me, priest of the gospel and man of the law, and rememberwith what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged! off with you now. i mustshut up my prize." we all withdrew. mr. rochester stayed a momentbehind us, to give some further order to grace poole. the solicitoraddressed me as he descended the stair.
"you, madam," said he, "are cleared from allblame: your uncle will be glad to hear it--if, indeed, he should bestill living--when mr. mason returns to madeira." "my uncle! what of him? do you know him?" "mr. mason does. mr. eyre has been the funchalcorrespondent of his house for some years. when your uncle receivedyour letter intimating the contemplated union between yourself andmr. rochester, mr. mason, who was staying at madeira to recruit his health,on his way back to jamaica, happened to be with him. mr. eyre mentionedthe intelligence; for he
knew that my client here was acquainted witha gentleman of the name of rochester. mr. mason, astonished and distressedas you may suppose, revealed the real state of matters. your uncle,i am sorry to say, is now on a sick bed; from which, consideringthe nature of his disease--decline--and the stage it has reached,it is unlikely he will ever rise. he could not then hasten to englandhimself, to extricate you from the snare into which you had fallen,but he implored mr. mason to lose no time in taking steps to prevent thefalse marriage. he referred him to me for assistance. i used all despatch,and am thankful i was not
too late: as you, doubtless, must be also.were i not morally certain that your uncle will be dead ere you reachmadeira, i would advise you to accompany mr. mason back; but as it is, ithink you had better remain in england till you can hear further, eitherfrom or of mr. eyre. have we anything else to stay for?" he inquired ofmr. mason. "no, no--let us be gone," was the anxiousreply; and without waiting to take leave of mr. rochester, they made theirexit at the hall door. the clergyman stayed to exchange a few sentences,either of admonition or reproof, with his haughty parishioner; thisduty done, he too departed.
i heard him go as i stood at the half-opendoor of my own room, to which i had now withdrawn. the house cleared, ishut myself in, fastened the bolt that none might intrude, and proceeded--notto weep, not to mourn, i was yet too calm for that, but--mechanicallyto take off the wedding dress, and replace it by the stuff gown ihad worn yesterday, as i thought, for the last time. i then sat down:i felt weak and tired. i leaned my arms on a table, and my head droppedon them. and now i thought: till now i had only heard, seen,moved--followed up and down where i was led or dragged--watched eventrush on event, disclosure open
beyond disclosure: but _now_, _i thought_. the morning had been a quiet morning enough--allexcept the brief scene with the lunatic: the transaction in the churchhad not been noisy; there was no explosion of passion, no loud altercation,no dispute, no defiance or challenge, no tears, no sobs: a few wordshad been spoken, a calmly pronounced objection to the marriage made;some stern, short questions put by mr. rochester; answers, explanationsgiven, evidence adduced; an open admission of the truth had been utteredby my master; then the living proof had been seen; the intruderswere gone, and all was over.
i was in my own room as usual--just myself,without obvious change: nothing had smitten me, or scathed me, ormaimed me. and yet where was the jane eyre of yesterday?--where was herlife?--where were her prospects? jane eyre, who had been an ardent, expectantwoman--almost a bride, was a cold, solitary girl again: her life was pale;her prospects were desolate. a christmas frost had come at midsummer;a white december storm had whirled over june; ice glazed theripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hayfield and cornfieldlay a frozen shroud: lanes
which last night blushed full of flowers,to-day were pathless with untrodden snow; and the woods, which twelvehours since waved leafy and flagrant as groves between the tropics, nowspread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests in wintry norway. myhopes were all dead--struck with a subtle doom, such as, in one night,fell on all the first-born in the land of egypt. i looked on my cherishedwishes, yesterday so blooming and glowing; they lay stark, chill,livid corpses that could never revive. i looked at my love: that feelingwhich was my master's--which he had created; it shiveredin my heart, like a suffering
child in a cold cradle; sickness and anguishhad seized it; it could not seek mr. rochester's arms--it could not derivewarmth from his breast. oh, never more could it turn to him; for faithwas blighted--confidence destroyed! mr. rochester was not to me whathe had been; for he was not what i had thought him. i would not ascribevice to him; i would not say he had betrayed me; but the attribute of stainlesstruth was gone from his idea, and from his presence i must go:_that_ i perceived well. when--how--whither, i could not yet discern;but he himself, i doubted not, would hurry me from thornfield. realaffection, it seemed, he could
not have for me; it had been only fitful passion:that was balked; he would want me no more. i should fear evento cross his path now: my view must be hateful to him. oh, how blind hadbeen my eyes! how weak my conduct! my eyes were covered and closed: eddying darknessseemed to swim round me, and reflection came in as black and confuseda flow. self-abandoned, relaxed, and effortless, i seemed to havelaid me down in the dried-up bed of a great river; i heard a flood loosenedin remote mountains, and felt the torrent come: to rise i had no will,to flee i had no strength.
i lay faint, longing to be dead. one ideaonly still throbbed life-like within me--a remembrance of god: it begotan unuttered prayer: these words went wandering up and down in my raylessmind, as something that should be whispered, but no energy was foundto express them-- "be not far from me, for trouble is near:there is none to help." it was near: and as i had lifted no petitionto heaven to avert it--as i had neither joined my hands, nor bent my knees,nor moved my lips--it came: in full heavy swing the torrent pouredover me. the whole consciousness of my life lorn, my love lost,my hope quenched, my faith
death-struck, swayed full and mighty aboveme in one sullen mass. that
bitter hour cannot be described: in truth,"the waters came into my soul; i sank in deep mire: i felt no standing; icame into deep waters; the floods overflowed me." end of twenty six