The Governess of Thornfield

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FORTY-SIX

The rain and sleet from the night before turned into a whirling snowstorm the next day. A keen wind brings fresh and blinding falls, and by twilight, the valley is drifted up and almost impassable. You lay a mat against the door to prevent the snow from blowing under it and sitting by the hearth you attempt to read.

Hearing a noise, you think the wind is shaking the door, but no, it is St. John lifting the latch and coming out of the howling darkness in a cloak covered in white like a glacier. So little did you expect a visitor tonight that you demand, “What is it? Is there any ill news?”

“No. How easily alarmed you are!” Coolly he removes his cloak and hangs it up against the door. “I shall sully the purity of your floor, but you must excuse me for once.”

“But why have you come?” you cannot forbear asking.

“Rather an inhospitable question to put to a visitor, but since you ask it, I answer that I must have a little talk with you. I have experienced a tale half told and I am impatient to hear the sequel.”

As he sits down, you shake your head in wonder. “What tale do you want to hear from me?”

“Well,” he reflects, “a strange one I feel, but one you know well. You see it is the story of a governess from Thornfield.”

Shock strikes your very nerves. “Mr. Rivers!” you cry in amazement.

“I can guess your feelings. Know that I have only heard the barest details of this story. It was inspired by the chance glimpse of a name written in abstraction on a piece of paper. Here, I will show you.” He produces the slip of paper he tore from your page just yesterday. You see that, indeed, you wrote your full name on the paper as a way to try the colors.

St. John continues. “A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a solicitor, Mr. Briggs. A young lady who was governess to the ward of Mr. Rochester is missing. It seems that Mr. Rochester professed honorable marriage to this girl and that at the very altar she discovered he had a wife yet alive, though a lunatic. After this, where or how the governess disappeared to is unknown, but that she should be found has now become seriously urgent. I have discovered that she seems to bear your name. Are you she?”

It is pointless to persist in secrecy. “Yes, yes, but since you know so much, surely you can tell me - what of Mr. Rochester? How is he, is he well?”

“I am ignorant of all concerning Mr. Rochester. I wonder that you should even mention him.”

You are quiet in your thoughts. Dismayed, you fear Mr. Rochester’s recklessness. What opiate has he discovered for his severe sufferings, his strong passions? You dare not consider what must be the consequences of his desperation.

“You do not ask why Mr. Briggs has sought you?”

“Well, what did he want?”

“Merely to tell you that your uncle of Madeira is dead, and that he has left you all his property. You are now rich, that is all.”

“I! Rich?”

“Yes, you are quite an heiress.”

Here was a new card turned up! It is a fine thing to be lifted in a moment from indigence to wealth, but not something one can comprehend all at once. And there is the matter of a relation gone - you had hoped to meet your uncle one day.

“You unbend your forehead at last,” Mr. Rivers says. “Perhaps you will ask how much you are worth?”

“How much am I worth?”

“Only twenty thousand pounds.”

This news actually takes your breath away for a moment. You would have thought yourself rich with five thousand pounds - but twenty thousand!

“That is a large sum! Don’t you think there must be a mistake?”

“No, it is clearly written in letters - twenty thousand.”

You feel rather like an individual of average gastronomical powers sitting down to a feast alone at a table spread for a hundred people. Mr. Rivers rises and puts his cloak on.

“Well, I have delivered my news, I think you look desperately miserable, but this information should bring you some comfort once you have thought about it. I must leave you now, however. Goodnight.”

He is lifting the latch, when a sudden thought occurs to you. “Wait! Mr. Rivers, I am puzzled why Mr. Briggs would write to you about me?”

“Oh, the clergy are often appealed to about odd matters.”

“No, that does not make sense. He must have had a specific reason to write to you?”

“I shall tell you another time.”

“No! You must tell me tonight!” You place yourself between him and the door, determined to have your way in this at least.

St. John looks rather embarrassed. “I would rather Diana or Mary inform you.”

“I must know tonight.”

“Well, then.” He takes his seat reluctantly at your table. “You were aware that we had an uncle pass away recently, who left us a small remembrance?”

You remember that Diana and Mary took leave of their governessing jobs when they had learned of their uncle’s death.

“Yes.”

“Our uncle had two siblings. One was our mother, and the other was a clergyman who married a woman named Reed of Gateshead. They both passed many years ago and left an orphan daughter. Mr. Briggs, being your uncle’s solicitor, wrote to me to ask if we knew anything of your whereabouts.”

How strange that news of a fortune left you feeling cold and numb, yet the news that you have more relations - that St. John, Diana, and Mary are, in fact, your cousins - cause a spark of delight and sudden joy to fill you.

“You three are my cousins?”

“Yes.”

You have found a brother you can be proud of, and two sisters whose qualities inspire affection and admiration. The gift of gold is ponderous, but the gift of three relations when you thought yourself alone in this world is a gift of solace. Now you can truly have a home.

“Oh, this is wealth indeed!” you cry. “I am glad!”

St. John’s bemusement at your reaction does not bother you. Your thoughts race faster and faster as you take a turn about the room.

“Write to your sisters,” you instruct him, “tell them that they must come home directly. They are now five thousand pounds richer.”

“You cannot mean to split your fortune?”

“I do mean it! Twenty thousand divided equally between the nephew and three nieces of our uncle is utterly fair. Besides I mean to have a home and connections. I like Moor House and will live at Moor House. I like Diana and Mary and will attach myself for life to Diana and Mary. It would please and benefit me to share this inheritance with the three people I love best in this world. Let there be no opposition or discussion about it!”


Go to FORTY-SEVEN



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