Sometime in the afternoon you raise your head and realize that you are sickening from excitement and inanition. Neither food nor drink has passed your lips that day, for you had not eaten breakfast. Having been shut up in your room the solitude has become a ruthless judge, the silence an awful void. You rise up and unlock the door of your room, stumbling over the threshold. There is an obstacle there - it is Mr. Rochester sitting on a chair right outside your door.
“You come out at last,” he says. “I have been waiting for you long, and listening, yet not one movement have I heard, nor one sob. Has your heart been weeping blood?”
You are silent as you wrestle with your own resolution. You must leave him, but you want to be weak to avoid the further suffering laid out before you. He is dearer to you than you could ever express but you aren’t sure he ever truly loved you at all.
“I never meant to wound you thus,” he continues. “I am a scoundrel, please tell me so. Roundly and sharply. Talk to me my dearest.”
You form words at last. “I cannot, I am tired and sick. I need some water.”
With a sigh, Rochester takes you in his arms and carries you downstairs to the library, placing you near the warmth of a reviving fire. He puts wine to your lips, and you take a drink.
“How are you now?”
“Much better, sir, I shall be well soon.”
“You must have a strange opinion of me; you must regard me as a plotting profligate who has been simulating disinterested love in order to draw you into a snare deliberately laid to strip you of honor and rob you of self-respect. What say you to that?”
“All has changed about me; I must change too. To avoid fluctuations of feelings and combat recollections and associations, there is only one way - Adele must have a new governess.”
“My little darling! Adele will go to school, that is settled already. I do not mean to torment you with recollections of Thornfield Hall; I will find a sanctuary for us. Somewhere where we will start a new existence - it is all right; you shall yet be my wife - you shall be Mrs. Rochester both virtually and nominally. I shall keep only to you so long as you and I live.”
“Sir, your wife is living; if I lived with you as you desire, I should be your mistress; to say otherwise is false.”
“I am a fool!” cries Mr. Rochester, as if to himself. “I tell you I am not married but I do not explain why. Listen to me for a moment and I will show you the real state of the case.” He positions his chair nearer to yours and takes your hand as if to assure your attention.
“I had once an elder brother and my father had resolved to keep the property together. All would go to my brother, but my father could not endure a son of his should be a poor man. He provided me with a wealthy marriage. His partner, Mr. Mason, was a West India planter and merchant and he found that his daughter would have a fortune of thirty thousand pounds; that sufficed. I was sent out to Jamaica to espouse a bride already courted for me. My father boasted that she was a great beauty and I found that be the case. They showed her to me at parties and I seldom saw her alone. I was flattered and dazzled by her charms and accomplishments. All the men in her circle seemed to admire her and envy me. I thought I loved her. There is no folly so besotted that the idiotic rivalries of society, the prurience, and rashness of youth, will not hurry a man to its commission. The marriage was achieved almost before I knew where I was. Oh, I have no respect for myself when I think of that act!
“My bride’s mother I had never seen; I understood she was dead. The honeymoon over, I learned my mistake; she was only mad, shut up in a lunatic asylum. Her father and mine conspired to keep this information from me for the sake of the thirty thousand pounds.
“These were vile discoveries, but except for the treachery of concealment, I should have made it no subject of reproach to my wife; even when I found her nature wholly alien to mine, and her tastes obnoxious to me. When I found I could not pass a single evening with her in comfort because I could not bear the continued outbreaks of her violent and unreasonable temper, or the vexations of her absurd, contradictory, and exacting demands. Even then I curtailed remonstrance despite the deep antipathy I felt.
“I will not trouble you with the abominable details of my life with her. Her vices sprang up fast and rank. And then a new revelation made the possibility of separation from her impossible. The doctors discovered that my wife was mad - her excesses and depravity had prematurely developed the germs of insanity. The law would now never allow me a divorce.
“I approached the verge of despair, yet I resolved to take this woman with me to England. In the interval, my brother died, and my father passed soon after. I could live in my native land and confine my wife with due attendance. With that, I did all that God and humanity require of me. I placed her in safety and comfort and decided to leave her. I then tried to find another I could love - a good and intelligent woman who would be a contrast to the fury at Thornfield.”
“But you could not marry, sir.” Your interjection is hardly well-timed while Mr. Rochester seems in such a state, but he appreciates your interruption.
“My dearest. I had determined and was convinced that I could and ought. It appeared absolutely rational that I should be considered free to love and be loved, I never doubted some woman might be found willing and able to understand my case and accept me despite the curse with which I was burdened. You see now how the case stands? After a youth and manhood passed half in misery and half in solitude, I have found what I can truly love - I have found you. I was wrong to attempt to deceive you, but I feared early instilled prejudice and I wanted to have you safe. This was cowardly; I should have appealed to your nobleness and magnanimity as I do now - opened to you plainly my life of agony. I should have asked you to accept my pledge of fidelity, and to give me yours; my dearest, give it to me now.”
A truly terrible moment, full of struggle and blackness, opens before you. Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than you are loved. But one drear word comprises your duty - “Depart!” Yet there is another path open to you - one of faithful love, acceptance, and ease. You need not renounce the love you feel for the man before you. How should you answer him?
“I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.” Go to FORTY
“Mr. Rochester, I will NOT be yours.” Go to THIRTY-NINE