It was always quiet in the red room, away from the chatter of the household and any sounds of life and the living. Her uncle had died here, as her cousins told Jane endlessly. Had died horribly and painfully and because of it, the room had been shut up, despite the south-facing windows and the richness of the furnishings.
Jane thought she would die there too, the first time she was put in the red room. Her aunt said it was because she was bad and ungrateful and had done something she couldn’t remember doing and shoved her inside. Desperate not to go, Jane had clung to her, begging her to stop, but she thought there must be a certain quality in her voice that enraged her aunt so, because Jane’s pleas only seemed to make her more determined, more cruel.
It was so quiet here. If Jane was still, she could almost hear the sound of her uncle breathing. A ghost of a breath. Jane crouched in front of the fireplace, as far away from the bed as she could go. One of the servant girls-- Molly, who was new and did not know that it gained her nothing to be kind to Jane-- had left her a lantern. There were old letters at her uncle’s desk, with handwriting she could not quite read. It took a moment for them to catch fire, but when it did, the dull red flame only seemed to intensify the dark, make it closer to Jane.
But as Jane watched the fire, she dreamed of it growing, spreading throughout the house. It was so red and bright. Would not the fire make all of the house into the red room? Would it not be just if it were? Why should she only suffer here alone?
The chimney was blocked, it turned out. The entire room filled up with smoke in minutes. Jane would have no doubt perished in it if not for Molly again, coming up to bring her bread and milk.
The fire was extinguished and Jane was beaten, and Molly, dismissed.
The next time Jane went into the red room, she did so in the dark.
Thornfield was so little like Lowood School that Jane sometimes wondered if her being here was but a dream. Perhaps she would wake soon and find herself in the small, cold bed in Lowood School, with a whole, dreary life stretching out ahead of her. But it was not so. Every day she woke up, warm and rested. Breakfast was generous and Mrs. Fairfax seemed eager to fatten her up, as she said, for Jane was entirely too frail, in her opinion. Then Adele would make her cheerfully dramatic entrance and the rest of Jane’s day would be devoted to keeping her student attentive and learning.
Jane enjoyed it-- she enjoyed almost everything about her new life. Despite the obvious constraints of her position, she felt freer here than she had her entire life. Here, among people who were friendly and interested in her, who did not seem to think she was wicked and flawed, Jane thought she could find a place for herself. She knew it would not last long-- Adele was young, but growing, and would not need a governess forever, but Jane hoped-- well, she hoped that the feeling of independence Thornfield gave her would stay, even when she eventually left here.
Yes, it was wonderful-- all was well. All but the terrible nightmares that she had begun to suffer from since she had come here. At first, they happened only occasionally, just flashes of dark against the usual fabric of Jane’s dreams. Her usual dreams were not always happy ones-- visions of the red room, or memories of her aunt and cousins’ cruelty or Helen’s illness and death dominated-- but these dreams were not like those familiar miseries.
It felt almost as if Jane was dreaming in someone else’s memories. It would always start in the same way-- she would be sitting in a stifling hot room as strangers moved around her, looking at her and occasionally touching her face and hair. A man suddenly loomed over her, his face dead-white in the gloom.
“Bertha Antoinetta,” he intoned, “have you prayed?”
“Father ... ” Jane began to say, but no words came out.
It is ready, someone shouted and suddenly it seemed that everyone, at once, was determined to pull Jane out of the room and bring her somewhere that she knew she did not want to be. She fought then, thrashed and screamed in their pitiless grips, but they led her on, inexorably, to-- somewhere.
That would be when Jane would startle awake. She would not be in her bed, but in some part of the house she had never been to during normal, waking hours. It seemed that she liked to climb when she was asleep, for she would usually find herself shivering and confused in an attic room that she doubted was in use-- the walls here were scorched with fire and it seemed a miracle that whatever had happened here hadn’t spread to the rest of the house.
Jane always tried to return to her room as quietly as she could, but one Mrs. Fairfax had caught her rounding a corner-- not far from her own door. “Jane,” the older woman said, lifting up her lantern. “What are you doing out of bed?”
“I-I am sorry, Mrs. Fairfax,” Jane said, “I didn't mean to disturb you. It is only-- sometimes I become restless at night, and like to walk.”
“Walk without any light and in your nightgown?”
Jane looked down and felt her face grow hot and red. “I know I am not properly attired…”
“It is not propriety I am most concerned with,” Mrs. Fairfax huffed. “Child, you will catch your death of cold if you continue on this way. Come along, we will get you comfortable in your own bed.”
She led the way back and Jane followed meekly behind her.
Her dreams seemed to intensify when Mr. Rochester returned from his travels.
He was abrupt and rude and seemed to delight in startling her, but he seemed to have harbor a strange sort of tenderness towards her as well. Of course, Jane was not as naive as all that-- even in places like Lowood, women talked to each other, and new governesses were often warned that no good would come out of any especial interest their new masters might have in them. Jane knew herself to be plain and uninteresting-- she did not know what, if anything, Mr. Rochester saw in her that was worth seducing.
She ought to keep out his way as much as possible, she knew, but it seemed that Mr. Rochester deliberately sought her out. He would ask about Adele’s progress and then disagree with Jane’s conclusions, changing the subject as the whim struck him. Jane’s drawings were scrutinized and critiqued-- though Mr. Rochester declared that he knew nothing of art, mind-- and it seemed that every piece and part of Jane was available to be weighted, prodded and measured by Mr. Rochester-- only to be found wanting in every way.
And yet she could not find it within herself to hate him. Rather, it seemed that when she was near him, her heart throbbed unexpectedly in her chest. She found herself smiling at him more often than she frowned. And though Mr. Rochester was by no means a handsome man, Jane found that she could watch him endlessly. Perhaps it was because he was the first man-- ever-- to evince any interest in her.
It was startling when, in the dead of night, Jane woke to find herself inside Mr. Rochester’s bedchamber, am oil lantern above her head. The dream had come to her that night, but she remembered more of it now. She had been dragged to a church and led to the altar. A man had been waiting for her there, and though they were seperated by many years and cares, when he turned to look at her, Jane recognized that man as Mr. Rochester.
His face filled her with unmistakable horror and then Jane awoke to a sheet of fire in front of her. For a moment, she stared at, uncomprehendingly, as the flames licked at the linen of Mr. Rochester’s bed. Then, as if a spell had been lifted from her, she cried,“Mr. Rochester! Please wake up! Your bed--”
He woke up with a snarl and looked around to the flames. Jane’s hand was shaking as she helped put out the flames. Would Mr. Rochester blame her for being there and possibly responsible? It wasn’t as if she could say with exact certainty what she had been doing, and why.
Mr. Rochester was staring at her for a shade too long. Jane pulled her robe closer to her and stared back. The vividness of the dream had faded but she was certain it was him that she’d seen in it, as the bridegroom that had struck dread into her heart.
“It must have been one of the servants--” he said finally. “Such a careless-- foolish--”
“I heard someone laughing above,” Jane said faintly, and she had, really she had, though she didn’t know if it was herself she was trying to convince, or Mr. Rochester.
He looked at her then and seemed to come to a decision. Coolly, as he had not just come close to a terrible, fiery death, he dismissed her. “Sleep well, Miss Eyre,” he said, his voice following her out like a lingering touch.
If there were ghosts, Jane was certain that she would have seen them already in her life. Even in her most harrowing moments in the red room, during her darkest days at Lowood, she never saw her uncle, never-- despite how much she longed for it-- saw Helen or felt her presence. Her hope was that both were secure in Heaven, but all she knew was that they were not here.
She did not think her dreams were the work of ghosts, but she was at a loss to as to how to explain them. Why did Rochester figure in them so heavily? For they had progressed from the sickening wedding to visions of a sea voyage that roused Jane from her slumber with the taste of sick in her mouth, then long, dreary stretches of days in a place that she could barely recognize as Thornfield Hall.
Jane did not have much time to puzzle it out-- Rochester had returned with a party of guests, a strange rarity indeed, according to Mrs. Fairfax. Of these guests, it was Miss Blanche Ingram.
Miss Ingram made it no secret that she disliked the sight of Jane and would rather she disappear into the ether, and though Jane took pains to avoid that vicious and vivacious lady, she could not quite do so. A snide remark, whispered so that Jane could hear, a little foot, stuck out so that Jane would trip on it-- there seemed nothing too petty or too cruel for Miss Ingram not to attempt.
It was not as if Jane was unaware of the source of Miss Ingram’s animosity. After all, it was clear to all-- after another intolerable evening, capped off with a puzzling visit from a ‘mysterious’ fortune-teller, Jane was ready to flee into the night. Miss Ingram was welcome to Thornfield, to Rochester, to everything.
“Jane,” said the man himself, coming up behind her with a rustle of silks. “Help me take off this off.”
“Perhaps one of the footmen--” Jane began to say, but he scowled at her.
“Do you believe, Miss Eyre, that Tom would be more adept at freeing me from this dress than you, who have worn dresses all your life?”
“I don't understand how you put yourself in it then,” Jane said, working quickly to unlaced his stays. If she did not stare overmuch, she reasoned, it wouldn't be so bad.
“I just pulled it over my head,” he said carelessly. “It wasn't until I tried to get out that I realized--”
“Oh,” Jane said faintly. “You aren't dressed underneath--”
“I can do the rest, Miss Eyre, thank you for your assistance. Please find yourself out again.”
Thus dismissed, Jane slipped out of the little side room they had been holed up in, taking care not to be seen. Or-- so she had hoped. But a polite little cough from behind told her she was mistaken.
“Oh, it's Miss What’s Your Name! What are you doing lurking here?” Miss Ingram smiled, her small, white teeth gleaming like pearls in the dimness of the hall. “Are you meeting with your lover? I doubt your employer would be pleased to hear it.”
“Hear what?” said Mr. Rochester and Miss Ingram turned her attention to him, her countenance all smiles and prettiness.
“I was just telling Miss Erwin here here that she ought not leave her charge along for so long. Do you not think so, Edward?”
“Adele is sleeping,” Jane said at the same time Mr. Rochester said, “I don't care what she does with the brat, as long as she manages to teach her something. And it is Miss Eyre, not Erwin.”
Miss Ingram smiled at the both of them, tapping the top of her fan against her chin. “Oh, I see,” she said, “I was mistaken, then.”
That night, Jane dreamt of a sharp pair of scissors in her hands-- or rather, in Bertha Antoinetta’s hands-- such as the one Mrs Fairfax used in her mending, chopping off heavy golden ringlets. She laid in bed that morning as the screams rose from the guest-quarters, and only dressed when the commotion seemed to have subsided.
Adele was intensely curious about what had prompted the Ingrams and their party to withdraw so abruptly from Thornfield, but with effort Jane was able to channel that curiosity into more suitable matters-- namely, arithmetic and Adele’s shocking test results on the subject.
Jane then received a letter and learned that her aunt was dying and that she was an heiress. Rochester did not seem incline to let her go, but Jane was not inclined to give up. No matter how he touched her hand and made declarations of their strange and mystical connection.
It was not that Jane disagreed with him-- they did have a strange connection, though it was perhaps more strange than he reckoned-- but such overdramatics made her faintly embarrassed for him. Besides, was he not practically betrothed to Blanche Ingram? Why did he toy with her so?
Jane departed from Thornfield Hall for the first time and traveled back to her aunt’s home-- she could not think of it as her childhood home, however long she had lived there. It was the same, though shabbier in the passage of years and her aunt, steeped deeply in venom.
In between learning of her uncle’s letter and her aunt’s deception, Jane wandered through the house like a disconcerted ghost. Once, she saw the door to the red room agape, wide and open for her. Without naming the feeling she had at the moment, Jane slipped inside. It was not the chamber of horrors of her childhood. Instead, it seemed to her a smallish room, quite tightly packed with discarded furniture. If there were ghosts here, she saw no signs of it.
When Jane returned to Thornfield, she felt lighter than she has when she had gone away. The party had departed in her absence and she learned, to her surprise that Blanche Ingram would not be the mistress of Thornfield after all.
“Marry me, Jane,” Rochester demanded, “can you not feel as I do that we are bound together, in this eternity and in the next?”
Jane acknowledged that she certainly felt something. If she looked more closely to her feelings, she saw that what she wanted was Rochester himself. He was not handsome, and he was not pleasant, most of the time, but she wanted him nonetheless.
There was nothing for it but to be married, she supposed.
She had set out her wedding veil out before going to sleep and woke to the smell of smoke. Dreams mixed with reality and for a moment Jane was frozen, uncertain to which was which. A long, thin scream jarred her fully awake. The smell of smoke grew stronger. This was no dream, then.
Thornfield was burning.
Jane hurled out of bed, determined to do what she could. She ushered Adele and Mrs. Fairfax to the courtyard and left them huddling together in the courtyard. As she sprinted back into the burning house, in the corner of her eye she saw the tall, spare figure of Grace Poole behind her, a part of the line of servants trying to put the fire out.
Among the smoke and flames, Jane missed at first the huddled shape of Rochester on the floor. She tried to rouse him-- she did not think that she would be able to pull him to safety otherwise-- and was relieved to find him stirring at her touch. “Jane,” he muttered wonderingly, his eyes unfocused, “this is the third time you've tried to kill me. Before you do it again, marry me so you will have the advantage of it.”
“Mr. Rochester,” Jane said wearily, “will you spare me your humor until we are no longer in mortal danger?”
“No, I cannot guarantee it,” he replied, but she ignored him, half-helping, half-dragging him towards the door. They were able to escape the flames, but Thornfield was not so lucky. Soon there was nothing left of the grand house except smoldering ruins and charred stone.
The following days and months were arduous ones for both Rochester and Jane. The fire had robbed him of both his sight and his home-- they all now resided in what had been the gatehouse for Thornfield-- and as for Jane…
Guilt ate her from the beginning. She could not help but think the fire was her doing, though she could not recall setting it, and indeed, despite Rochester’s flip remarks, no suspicions seemed to fall on her. But still, she could not be settled in her mind.
From all the way to childhood on, she had had such episodes as these-- periods of darkness that she could not for the life of her remember what had happened and what she had done. Her aunt and her cousins had tormented her for it, Mr. Brocklehurst had cited it as signs of her devilish nature, and Helen, in her sweetness, had assured her that surely God and his angels watched over her even then. But Jane knew that before their nuptials, she had to make a clean breast of it to Rochester.
It would not be fair for him to marry her without knowing the truth, she reasoned. So, one day she sent away the servants and tended to him herself. After some idle talk-- reports of Adele’s progress in her boarding school in Switzerland was certainly very encouraging-- Jane plucked up the courage to begin.
To his credit, Rochester listened to her fully before he spoke. “Your dreams,” he began to say, and then shook his head. “You think they are reflections of the past? You are haunted?”
“Or else I am mad,” Jane replied softly.
“Jane,” Rochester said, “I have never been married. I have never met a woman named Bertha Antoinetta Mason.”
After a long moment, Jane nodded. Looking downward, she murmured, “Let me adjust your pillows for you, Edward.”
Edward Rochester’s funeral was a sparsely attended affair, happening as it did in the dead of winter. The ground was still soft enough to be dug up, but that was all one could say was good luck. He had never recovered from the fire that destroyed Thornfield Hall, though his doctors believe that his strength had rallied at last before his wedding, which had taken place at his bedside.
But alas, it was not meant to be.
Oh to love so, be so loved, yet so mistaken!