The next morning you receive an unexpected visitor - the coachman from Lowood, Robert, has traveled all night to Thornfield Hall to deliver you a message. That Mrs. Reed is out of health and her son John, after months of a dissolute lifestyle drinking and gambling, passed away last week. It is rumored that he committed suicide. The shocking tidings caused Mrs. Reed to have a stroke.
Terrible news indeed, and though you once promised to never visit Mrs. Reed again, she has asked for you by name and Robert has come to collect you. You think it best to go, so it only remains for you to ask permission from Mr. Rochester.
He is playing billiards with Miss Ingram when you call him away. Miss Ingram does not deign to notice your quiet entrance, until you ask Rochester if you can speak to him. You catch disapproval in Miss Ingram’s eyes, as Rochester leads you to the library next door.
“Please sir, I want leave of absence for a week or two.”
“What to do? Where to go?”
“To see my Aunt who is ill, she has asked me to come and see her.”
“Your Aunt? Where does she live?”
“At Gateshead Hall, about a hundred miles away.”
“That is a long distance. What good can you do her? I would never think of running a hundred miles to see an old lady, who will perhaps be dead before you reach her. Besides did you not say she cast you off when you were a child?”
“Yes, sir, but that was a long time ago and the circumstances are very different now. I cannot neglect her wishes now.”
“Promise me to stay only a week.”
“I had better not pass my word; I might be obliged to break it.”
“You will return though? She will not induce you to stay?”
“I will return. I am not on such terms with my relatives that make it likely they will ask me to stay.”
“I suppose we must say goodbye for a time then. How should we perform this ceremony?”
“As others do. With a farewell.”
“Farewell, for the present, Miss Governess. This seems stingy and dry to my notions, but I suppose a handshake would not content me either. Don’t stay away too long.”
With that, Mr. Rochester strides off.
Your journey back to Gateshead Hall is uneventful, yet emotional. It has been so many years since you have seen the place, and everything seems just as you remembered it. Even Bessie is here, tending the family hearth and she rises to greet you.
“Bless you, Miss! I knew you would come!”
“Yes, Bessie, I hope I am not too late. How is Mrs. Reed?”
“She is alive and more sensible and collected than she was. The doctor says she may linger a week or two yet. She was talking of you only this morning. I am glad you are come!”
Bessie leads you to Mrs. Reed’s room, though you know the path well. Often, as a child, Mrs. Reed summoned you to her room for chastisement or reprimand. Softly opening the door, you find the light shaded and the great four-post bed just as you remembered it. Mrs. Reed’s well-known face is stern and relentless, but her illness has worn deeper lines of bitterness into her flesh. She looks at you without emotion.
“How are you Aunt Reed?”
“You are come? There is something I must say to you, but I cannot -- let me think…”
Her wandering look and changed utterance tell you what a wreck has taken place in her once vigorous frame. You reach for her hand, but she pulls away.
“You have been nothing but a trial to me since you were born. I would not speak to you but I am very ill, I know,” she says. “I must ease my mind before I die. I have twice done you a wrong which I regret now. One was in breaking my promise to my husband to bring you up as my own child and the other --” She stops. “After all it may be of no great importance,” she murmurs. “And if I get better, to humble myself to her is so painful.”
She makes an effort to alter her position but fails and something in her face changes. An apparent awareness that her illness will not improve decides her.
“Well I must get it over. Got to my dressing-case and read the letter you will find there.”
Obeying her direction, you read the letter. It is addressed to Mrs. Reed and concerns you. Your uncle from your father’s side has asked for news of you and wishes to adopt you as Providence has blessed his endeavors and he is unmarried and childless. It is dated three years back.
“Why did I never hear of this?”
“Because I disliked you too fixedly to ever a lend a hand to lifting you to prosperity. I could not forget your conduct to me and the fury you turned on me and said you abhorred me the worst of anybody in the world.”
“I was a child. So many times, I would have been glad to love you if you would have let me.”
“No!” Mrs. Reed turns her head away from you. “You have a very bad disposition and to this day I feel it impossible to understand how for nine years you could be patient and quiescent under any treatment and in the tenth break out all fire and violence. I told your Uncle John that you were dead, that you had died of typhus at Lowood.”
You look again at the letter in your hand. Mrs. Reed not only denied you familial love as a child but also prevented another family from saving you from the distress and privation at Lowood. But Mrs. Reed is on her death bed, and your Christian upbringing tells you that you must forgive her faults. Can you find forgiveness in your heart?
To not forgive and tell Mrs. Reed what you think, go to THIRTY-TWO
To forgive Mrs. Reed, go to THIRTY-THREE